18 January, 2011

Space Solar Power

The concept of SBSP (Space Based Solar Power) was theorized over 40 years ago by renowned scientist Dr. Peter Glaser. Since then, in response to periodic energy crises, the idea has been re-evaluated from time to time by the U.S. Department of Energy, NASA, major aerospace companies and countries such as China, Japan and India. Their studies generally concluded that there is no technical barrier to implementing SBSP; rather, the principal impediment has been economics -- the ability to provide SBSP at a cost that is competitive with other energy sources...
However, as we rapidly run out of affordable non-renewable fossil fuel sources of energy and before competition to access what remains becomes too aggressive risking international conflict, the imperative is to find long term alternative sources of base load renewable energy that are also environmentally friendly before catastrophic Climate Change becomes irreversible.
Energy generated from Uranium fuelled nuclear fission is not a viable long term alternative to fossil fuel generated energy, particularly when taking into account the costs for radioactive waste safe storage and disposal as well as lengthy decommissioning and decontamination costs that can run into billions over a period of sixty years or more after the power plant is closed down.   Moreover, global non-renewable supplies of uranium are now limited.
Energy derived from Thorium fuelled nuclear fission is experimental at this stage and might become an important contributor to the base load global energy mix.
Energy derived from earth bound nuclear fusion remains a distant possibility but, why would we want to create a nuclear fusion reactor on earth when we already have one in the form of the sun freely pouring infinite amounts of clean energy over us?  Why are we spending billions on this unproven technology when we could be harnessing the sun’s energy from space with already proven technology for a fraction of the cost? After 50 years of trying unsuccessfully to prove the science of fusion power with no conclusion as to its commercial viability, this represents an extraordinary waste of taxpayers’ money and simply does not make any sense at all.
There is only one reliable, clean and secure source of renewable energy with the potential to meet all future global base load demand for energy in perpetuity and that is Space Based Solar Power. All we have to do is reach up and capture this energy.
Hundreds, possibly even thousands of Communication satellites have been using similar technology for decades to broadcast Satellite TV and Radio worldwide - why not take this a step further and broadcast or narrow-cast energy to where it is needed by using microwave or laser technology to achieve SBSP from large solar furnace or PV arrays in space?
The time has now come for international government collaboration to create the commercial environment and incentives that foster rapid development of this new approach to generating energy well before the Energy Return on Energy Invested to extract, refine and distribute conventional oil and gas becomes no longer viable or affordable (also known as the NEROEI).  The initial high capital costs can justifiably be amortised over a longer period than usual because, once commissioned into service, the actual cost of generating energy from the sun are virtually free from the onset.  Moreover, maintenance costs are low to non-existent when compared with conventional power stations - there are hardly any moving parts to maintain because the systems are essentially maintenance free solid state systems with high reliability and built-in redundancy.
Energy companies and in particular oil and gas companies with vast financial resources at their disposal, must start to think about diversifying their operations into the new realm of SBSP by partnering with aerospace companies and energy distribution companies to expedite the development of this energy source for humanity's long term consumption. The sooner the better!
The Case for Space Solar Energy is explored in this book which is exceptionally well written and easy to read even by those of you without a technical background.  John Mankins, the author of this book, has appeared in a TED video on the subject that is also well worth viewing.  A more detailed and lengthy presentation by John Mankins can be found here.

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