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Making space solar power possible

15th Nov 2011

Harvesting solar energy from space could provide a cost-effective way to meet global power
needs, according to a study by an international scientific group.

Research conducted by the International Academy of Astronautics (IAA) has found that orbiting power plants - capable of collecting solar energy and beaming it to Earth - appear "technically feasible" within 10 to 20 years, based on current technology.

The academy - supported by former NASA head of concepts John Mankins - presented their findings to a National Space Society conference in Washington yesterday (November 14), highlighting that the plants that would be able to gather energy from the sun ceaselessly since sunset and weather would not factor in.

"It is clear that solar power delivered from space could play a tremendously important role in meeting the global need for energy during the 21st century," Mr Mankins said.

Believed to be the first broadly based international assessment of potential paths to collecting solar energy in space and delivering it to markets on Earth via wireless power transmission, the study was headed by former chairman of the Indian Space Research Organisation Madhavan

According to the study, this type of space solar power project could be made economically viable in 30 years or less, without the need for a road map or specific architecture.

Funding from both governments and the private sector would be vital, particularly as we are continuing to rely on fossil fuels, rather than renewable energies.

However, the study recognised that "private-sector funding is unlikely to proceed alone because of the "economic uncertainties" of the development and demonstration phases and the time lags".

One particular benefit noted by the National Space Society was the "essentially zero" terrestrial environmental impact a space project would have.

While this type of technology is a long way off, Australian Greens leader Bob Brown believes that Australia could be totally powered by renewable energy within a decade.

Speaking on the upcoming Clean Energy Future package - which was approved by federal parliament last week (November 8) - Mr Brown claimed that Australians should not "rest on our laurels" when it comes to protecting the environment.
"…we'll be looking at how we can improve on [the package] in the future," Mr Brown said.

"We really need to be taking this seriously."

Posted by Mike Peacock - Solar Correspondent 

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