Solar power innovation (part two): solar power satellites

astronaut from the 60s

Image from NASA (click image to see original on Wired.com)

Last week we took the quantum leap into the inestimably small applications of solar power innovation by bringing you up to date on quantum dots and solar windows. The article was a solar squizz at how the latest developments in nano technology have brought the concept of windows as solar panels just that one tantalisingly step closer.

We’re going to the other end of the spectrum this week though readers. Indeed from the sublime to the ridiculous with a look at solar panels in outer space as part of an orbiting energy-producing satellite. Known as the Solar Power Satellite (SPS), this out-of-world proposal is our rant for the week. Our spray is based on a recent article in Wired that was handed to your correspondent by SolarQuotes founder Finn Peacock.

It all happens at the SQHQ virtual water cooler folks!

The concept of solar panels zipping around outer space beaming gigawatts of energy to Earth is not a new one. Though touted in numerous science fiction books and TV classics (I’m sure there’s a Dr Who episode somewhere that covers this….if not why not?), the proposal has been considered quite seriously.

According to Wired, NASA and the US Department of Energy have reached deep into their collective pockets to fund advance studies into this space age concept. Proof that an orbiting solar power-producing, space age satellite is not…well… out of this world altogether!

Originally proposed by Czech-born physicist Peter Glaser way back in 1968, the forward-thinking genius was awarded a patent over the technology in 1973. Which gives you an idea that the concept was, and still is, considered as worthy of more than being the subject of a science fiction book.

In a nutshell, Glaser’s proposal was to orbit a satellite around the Equator (to avoid Earth’s shadow) that would beam an array of electricity via microwave technology back to a receiving station on Earth.

Practical problems abound of course. To send such a monster into orbit would require maintenance in space and a shitload (Aussie technical term) of solar panels to do the job. According to Wired, NASA’s conservative estimate was the orbiting solar station would need to be 10 km by 5km and weigh 50,000 tons to contribute around 5 gigawatts of energy to the grid.

Now retired, Glaser has a string of achievements linked to solar power innovation throughout his career. These include over 800 scientific papers and books and memberships of prestigious scientific organisations such as the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the American Solar Energy Society. He was inducted into the Space Technology Hall of Fame in 1996.

More importantly, it appears that his theories (perhaps once considered outlandish) are of even more relevance today as the world struggles to avoid climate catastrophe and move towards a greener, more renewable energy.

So how long will it be before solar satellites are whizzing around our heads beaming back a large portion of our energy needs? Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No it’s the solar power innovation of all time: a satellite providing our electricity needs from the ultimate renewable energy source: the Sun.

Solar power innovation? Or just a pipe dream that belongs in science fiction books, TV shows and films? Please have your solar say below in the¬†comments…

Comments

  1. Rod Reeves says

    Whatever happened to a firm called Sustainable Technology Australia ,who were fiddling about with doping glass window panes to make them act as solar panels?

  2. Good point Rod, thanks for the query. Indeed anyone know of any other solar power innovation firms like Sustainable Technology Australia?

  3. Here is the text of an e mail that I have sent to the Queensland minister with responsibility for energy. Tariff 11 increased by 13.6% and the ‘service charge’ increased by 66%. Yet the power providers, in this case Origin Energy, will not negotiate an increase in their feed in tariffs. We are being ripped off and both sides of politics are to blame. I am one very angry consumer!!!

    Dear Minister. I wish to make clear my concerns about recent changes to electricity tariffs and charges. Ever since the QCA was formed, it has been anything but useful and has done nothing for encouraging ‘competition’ in any field of industry with which it has been involved. The latest increase to domestic electricity tariff 11 is grossly excessive and probably unfair to anyone who is not a shareholder in Origin Energy or any other electricity retailer. The QCA is seemingly just a rubber stamp for vested interests in the economy, and as usual, the ordinary people suffer for the poor decisions of others. To rub salt into the wound so to speak, by allowing an increase of 66% to the ‘service charge’ is nothing short of price gouging by the retailers. There is no way on this Earth that their costs have increased to this extent. Just ask their employees if they have had a similar increase in wages! I think that the QCA should be abolished as it has clearly failed to serve the people of Queensland by using competition policy to reduce the costs of goods and services by increasing competition within any industry. If anything, I think that the QCA has been captured by vested interests and is being supported by governments of all persuasions as it distances them from unpopular decisions / outcomes and provides a whipping boy for politicians who have no interest in providing a service to the public that the public can afford. I also would like to suggest that it be legislated that electricity retailers be required to provide a solar feed in tariff of between 10 to 14 cents per kilowatt hour. I think that it is outright robbery on the part of Origin Energy (for instance) to only provide a 6 cent solar feed in tariff while being able to sell such excess energy that is fed back into the power grid at over 30c per kilowatt hour. This is about an 80% profit for doing nothing! The only thing that will happen here is that the share price of Origin, AGL, Energy Australia etc will rise on the profits that will be generated by the robbing of consumers who have put their money into solar electricity systems. I will be voting for any politician who will bring the QCA and the energy industry players into line. At the moment, that certainly doesn’t seem to be your government.

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  1. […] as discussed here in our April 28 article, the idea has jumped from the realms of science fiction into the blueprint mode. Indeed some […]

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