Going closer to the sun for solar power

April 13, 2009

Somebody alert Capt. Kirk.

California utility PG&E and solar power company Solaren say they have inked a first-of-its-kind deal to produce renewable solar power from space satellites beginning in the year 2016.

PG&E, one of the largest electric utilities in the United Sates, says on its in-house blog, Next100, that it is seeking approval from state regulators for a power purchase agreement with Solaren, which it says can provide 200 megawatts of clean, renewable energy — enough to power some 140,000 California homes — over a 15 year period.

Solaren says it will generate the power using solar panels on Earth-orbiting satellites, transmit it back to Earth through a radio frequency to a recieving station in Fresno County, then convert it into electricity which would be fed into PG&E’s grid.

Though the project sounds exotic (read: expensive), PG&E says the benefit of solar energy from space is that — since the satellites are consideraby closer to the source with no clouds in the way — its 8 to 10 times greater than that on Earth and can be harnessed 24 hours a day, no matter the season back home.

Solaren CEO Gary Spirnak says on the blog that he is confident that his team, which has years of experience in the aerospace industry, can build the world’s first Space Solar Power station and deliver power to Californians from space by 2016.

What do you think? Is this something out of Star Wars, or is space the next frontier for solar power?

Photo credit: Reuters/Ho New


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Definitely, the space will be one of the next frontier for Solar Power if it is viable and cost effective to maintain when it is needed. And the other thing we all should aware is that the space is becoming a junkyard of all sorts of space and satellite programs. No cleanup program is in their agenda. How many of us has got any notion of the number of unwanted man made objects orbitting over our heads .. ?

Posted by Gamini Gunasekera – Mendis | Report as abusive

The cost of doing nothing should always be considered in comparison to the cost of doing any number of projects proposed to mitigate a problem. This appears to be an unpopular practice amongst those in positions responsible for determining what public policy will be.

Any project that requires a huge technological leap is precisely the kind of endeavor(s) we should be pursuing. The Manhattan project required the development of all kinds of technical capabilities in order to complete the project. These capabilities allowed us to accomplish other formidable tasks. In the mean time conservation is the bridge to where we need to go.

The unfortunate reality about the Manhattan project is the legacy of nuclear proliferation and the potential for wars that will render the planetary environment uninhabitable. I hope that such lessons of history do not go unheeded when final decisions are made as to what course we will choose in order to meet our energy needs.

Posted by Anubis | Report as abusive

Call me when its built.

Posted by Skywalker | Report as abusive

Sounds great in theory, What happens when other obiting objects intersect with the transmission path? Sounds more like a failed weapon that is being converted for a peaceful use. What if the collector/transmitters are aimed incorrectly and the RF signal bombards something other than the intended receiver station? Say for instance a field of crops.

I agree with Gamini, thought should be given to the millions of artificial objects that are orbiting at 14,000 mph.

Posted by ABC | Report as abusive

I’d like to know more about the science behind this, particularly the transmission of electricity by radio waves. I’m assuming that the process of transmission will bring the comparitive efficiency down significantly below 8-10 times greater than earth-based solar.

Also, assuming it’ll be a geosynchronous satellite, it won’t be able to generate energy 24 hours a day as it will be in the shade almost as often as the land underneath it. I’m not sure how it could work if it wasn’t geosynchronous.

Posted by SP | Report as abusive

Sounds like a good idea. As long as they don’t harness the energy into a weapon like in James Bonds Moonraker. I wouldn’t put it past them haha.

Posted by solar training | Report as abusive