In the may Space Energy News eNewsletter, it references a January, 2011 article in the Japan newspaper Daily Yomiuri Online. It talks about an experiment testing the feasibility of space-based solar power generation;
The technology would start by generating electricity from sunlight in space, convert the power into microwaves and then send it to Earth, the team said. The planned test will attempt to convert a strong electric current into microwaves and transmit them 10 meters away in a simulated outer space environment at Kyoto University.
I have blogged before about my skepticism about this technology. I have no doubts that it is technically feasible. No real scientific breakthroughs need to occur in order to have some sort of demonstration project set up. But I am very doubtful about this being used to generate a significant portion of the world’s energy needs – the amount of energy we use is just too vast. I think I calculated once that it would take solar satellites with the combined area of the country of India beaming down to an area the size of Italy, just to keep up with the forecasted increase in our energy demand. The problem is just one of sheer bulk – an awful, awful lot of material would have to be put into geosynchronous orbit (and then maintained, perhaps an even bigger problem).
But, hope springs eternal. Japan is certainly the ideal testing place. They are a skilled, patient people, very technologically advanced and, with a falling birth rate (which, along with being more energy efficient, could translate to an actual drop in their energy needs).
I am waiting for the day when any proponent of space-based solar power actually ‘runs the numbers’ and states how much material (weight and size) will need to be launched into GEO to generate a significant amount of power – they seem to avoid this exercise…
No matter how efficient the energy gathering / transmission mechanism eventually is, the enormous amount of material to be launched into space to build such a system will demand a commercial earth-to-space transportation system, and that means a space elevator. If you’re a fan of commercially available space-based solar power, you HAVE to hope that a Space Elevator is technically feasible.
On the treehugger.com website (yes, this is a real website), they allude to this by saying;
The next step will be figuring out how to reduce the cost of putting all that material in space. This will probably mean cheaper and more efficient launchers, but also lighter solar panels and equipment.
Space Elevator, space elevator, space elevator…