“Die another Day” fans may soon see the piece de resistant– a satellite capable of harnessing energy from the sun and transmitting it back to earth since it is about to become quite real in a few decades from now.
For over half a decade, NASA’s scientists have dreamt of creating a viable solution for extra-atmospheric solar panels, and a plausible solution is underway. Ever since the conception of space-based solar power, there have been a lot of hurdles to overcome because the technology has significant limitations as a renewable energy source.
The number one drawback is that the sun has to be shining for it to work. This drawback has effectively limited the regions that solar power can be used to drier, sunnier areas like Arizona and California. Moreover, the atmosphere absorbs energy from the sun effectively impeding its efficiency.
Not to mention, grounded solar panels are directed away from the sun half the time. However, a plausible solution is in the works to realize the joint dream of NASA and the Pentagon. Many of the proposals put forward involve using a cluster of mirrors on a spacecraft to mirror the sun’s rays into a power converter.
The amassed energy in the power converter could then be beamed to the planet using a microwave emitter or laser. Additionally, there are ways to regulate the energy of the waves to protect birds or planes from being harmed.
Energy gathered from these space-based solar panels won’t be limited by out atmosphere, the clouds or the day/night cycles since solar energy will be absorbed continuously. Furthermore, there would be no need to store the energy in batteries.
Supporters of this plan claim that we have all the basic technology needed to engineer and launch extra-atmospheric solar panels. However, antagonists of this plan—Tesla’s Elon Musk, claim that the costs would be prohibitive and that we should kill the idea.
.With that said, global warming is a threat to humanity’s survival and any plan that proposes to minimize carbon emissions is too attractive to ignore. According to Paul Jaffe, a spacecraft engineer at the U.S Naval Research Laboratory, space-based solar panels are an environmentally friendly alternative with minimal carbon footprint and essentially no waste which make too good an opportunity to pass up.
Jaffe proposed a plan at the D3 Innovation Pitch Challenge, a summit hosted by the Department of Defense, for implementing extra-atmospheric solar panels which won four out of seven awards of all the 500 submissions. According to Jaffe, the plan would cost $10 billion and would have an orbital power station that would easily power more than 150,000 homes in a decades’ time.
Additionally, the plan would pay off in the long run since over time the technology would be more efficient and has a lot potential similar to how wind and solar took on carbon-based alternatives. However, the future of space-based solar panels rests with the consumer.
Furthermore, China and Japan already have plans to deploy their own extra-atmospheric solar-power stations in the next two to three decades. In the U.S, Solaren has started to raise funds to implement the plan. The strategy has already garnered support with electricity utility provides such as PG&E signing a contract.
You should note that neither of these projects will get returns for the better part of a decade or more and the average consumer can only hope it will be sooner rather than later. According to the U.S Energy Information Administration, the energy needs of the world will grow by near 50% within the next three decades.