There’s something about space that never ceases to capture our imagination. Although in this case it’s capturing our energy, or at least it has the potential to. The idea of space based solar power has been captivating minds since 1968, when Dr. Peter Glaser, an American scientist, presented the idea. The past fifteen years or so have seen a resurgence of space based solar power as a viable source of clean energy, with initiatives surfacing that seek to take it out of the realms of our imagination and into reality.
Space based solar power acts as a way to harness clean energy through solar panels placed on satellites in space. Sunlight is captured and converted into electricity that is transmitted to receiving stations on earth, where distribution would then be possible. The major advantage it has over terrestrial solar power is its ability to capture energy 24 hours of the day, as it would be uninterrupted by weather conditions, and that pesky thing called night. It has the ability to transfer energy in real time as it is needed, the potential to create a quarter of a million jobs in the US alone and of course provide clean energy.
Concerns have often been voiced over the possible side effects of the microwave beams on humans and animals. However, scientists claim that the beams will be received over a large area and are concentrated at a low level, proving to be of no harm. There has also been apprehension over the potential loss of energy when it comes to converting as well as making it affordable.
Technically feasible, and with so many potential benefits, space based solar power has largely been unrealized due to the lack of economic investment. Although in recent years this has been changing. In April of 2009 Pacific Gas & Electric, a California utility company, and Solaren Space signed a deal for an estimated $2 billion project to develop a system that would collect power from orbiting satellites. 2009 also saw the Japanese space agency, government and firms, such as Mitsubishi, initiate a $21 billion project over the next 30 years or so. In early 2010 EADS Astirum, a European space company announced its search for partners to help it launch a solar power demonstration in orbit, citing one of its biggest challenges as finding investors.
The move towards space based solar power yields enormous promise. When the costs are compared to something like nuclear energy it reveals that space based solar power is truly a competitive alternative. There is no doubt that we will soon be seeing the benefits of space’s unending capture of our imaginations in the form of clean energy.