By Andrew Nusca
Posting in Energy
Mitsubishi and IHI Corp. said they will join a $21 billion Japanese project to build a massive solar-powered generator in space within 30 years and beam electricity to earth.
Mitsubishi and IHI Corp. said they will join a $21 billion Japanese project to build a massive solar-powered generator in space within 30 years and beam electricity to earth.
Researchers representing 16 companies will spend four years developing technology to send electricity without cables in the form of microwaves, according to an official statement by the Japan's trade ministry.
In space, the station will be able to generate power regardless of weather conditions.
The effort is to reduce reliance on fossil fuels and take advantage of the most reliable energy source in the solar system: the Sun.
Japan is developing technology for a 1-gigawatt solar station fitted with roughly 2.5 square miles of solar panels, enough to supply about 294,000 Tokyo homes.
The team hopes to have it running in three decades, according to the trade ministry.
The challenge for the team is to figure out how to transport panels to the solar station 36,000 kilometers above the earth's surface in a cost-efficient way. Otherwise, the station won't be commercially viable.
Right now, the project is expected to cost 2 trillion yen, or about $21.5 billion USD. It costs approximately $107,000 USD just to launch a single rocket, according to a deputy director at the ministry quoted in the article.
In the U.S., NASA and the energy department have spent $80 million over three decades in an effort to study solar generation in space, according to a 2007 report by the U.S. National Security Space Office.
Japan's plan is to launch a small satellite fitted with solar panels in 2015, and test beaming the electricity from space through the ionosphere, the outermost layer of the earth's atmosphere, according to the trade ministry document.
Sep 4, 2009
would not be necessary to put in a normal orbit as usually understood. A big part of it could be placed on the moon, with elements of it to transferr it to simpler geosynchronous orbit by cheap collimators. We have already solved the control and aiming problems of this with star wars technology; it is a no brainer. However, I say let the Nipponese waste the money, it will improve their science way ahead of ours and bury our industry even further than it already has, because of our loathing of industrial automation that our unions said wouldn't work! We can actually come up with simple ground based solutions that will solve the problem anyway. I plan to put my money where my mouth is and start a business soon. I shall not reveal the details, or everyone else will beat me to it!!! Suffice to say, if you are truely aware of what has gone on in the research sector in the last 20 years, you would be pulling all your oil and coal money out and holding it for the new wave!! We will absolutely bury the competition with $1 a watt in hardware cost!!!!
However the cost per pound will drop per year as lift science continues. Plus - what is wrong with a spaced based intitiative that lasts 58.333 years and longer actually,say 1000? that doesn't leave the earth irradiated by nuclear fission matierials? And jack-rat - you funny! HA! Ignorant, but funny! None-the-less!
Did not get it. Spent a 21 B to make 360 M a year - 300,000 homes average electricity bill $1200 a year = 360 000 000 21B/360M= 58.333 years It will take 58 years to payoff for the project. Where did I makee a mistake?
RESPONSE: In response to #3 (dfosberry), I disagree that this technology would increase our global warming. The concept describes using microwaves, not UV rays. Microwaves do not generate heat on their own. Any heat derived from them is the result of exciting water and similar molecules. This is why some things do not heat well in the microwave. COMMENTS: I think there are options that we have yet to invent that will come into play to fulfill the core idea of this project. We'd also have to consider the other advantages and disadvantages of such a project: (+) Weather would not interfere with solar collection from space. (--) Weather could interfere with the transmission back to Earth. (+) From space, the device would actually collect more solar energy, as the atmosphere has not filtered out as much of it, even on a clear day. Beaming microwaves means introducing risk: (--) What if the microwave beam goes off course? (+) I suspect that there will need to be some sort of device handshake that says "no soup for you!" if the satellite and earthly devices are not connected. Not unlike how batteries retain (most of) their charge when not connected to a device. Beaming coded light waves could be another way to transmit usable energy, where we utilize something like a magnifying glass in the sun, except it could be non-visible light that gets converted into energy at the ground level. Performing something thats a hybrid between radio crystals and passive RFID technologies could be a way also, letting the satellite be the active part and the earth part be the passive part of the energy cycle. The ultimate down side is to determine what the waste byproducts would be. Personally, I'd prefer to leverage space, be it a floating craft or something based on the moon or elsewhere, to convert / combine / split atoms of one type into something more usable here and then transport them back here.
They should use thin-film photovoltaic panels - fly them up there rolled up, unroll them like a window shade once in orbit.
Can anyone give me a clue why when I leave a message on here, random hard carriage returns seem to be inserted all over the place? I'm using Google's browser.
Once long ago in a galaxy far, far away.......Just kidding. I actually once read a SiFi story about just such method of capturing solar power and beaming it to earth. The fellow in charge of the "Station" fell victim to months of isolation and went quietly mad. He got it in his head that the people of earth were stealing his power......he could see all those clusters of light (cities) on the dark side. He found that if he didn't keep the beam focused tightly on the receptor like he was supposed to, he could use it like a big eraser and erase all those clusters and make them quit using his power. I don't know how accurate the science is....but it made a good read. The people on earth were in a frenzy to launch a search and destroy mission before they all got erased.
and then if it gets hit by some space junk, it'll be lazing the earth's surface like a drunkard trying to hit a urinal..
I recall when this was proposed in the USA several decades ago. They were going to beam the energy back to a buried underground metal net somewhere up north, Michigan? people were afraid then that it would fry all the dairy cattle. People still would rather trust their superstitions than science. It's totally safe. You get more microwave radiation on a sunny day than you would from this device. But hey, let's all stay in our caves for another 100,000 years or so believing in voodoo and witchcraft. It's a great idea and we (the USA) should be developing this technology, not Japan.
One of the comments up above pointed out the fly in the soup: Energy cost to get the satellite to orbit is a major hassle for beamed power arrays; it's the reason why going after Lunar resources is usually part of the issue. Getting from Luna to Geosynch is about 1/12th the energy from getting from Modesto to Geosynch. As to transmission paths and interference - yes, there's going to be some RF bleed. There are also frequency windows that should minimize atmospheric dispersion. (For that matter, many of the techniques we use for adaptive optics on telescopes can be used to correct for atmospheric dispersion of transmission.) Another technical issue that needs to be overcome is relay satellites. The Rayleigh length for most of the candidate transmission frequencies is going to need relay satellites, and those WILL move relative to ground stations. For station keeping, geosynch is kissing the outer edge of the Van Allen radiation belts; this makes several options for magnetic station keeping viable. I'd like to see this studied and see something launched and put to the test. We can spend money on studies, but until we try, we won't learn anything useful.
Ok I figured it out. This one is a freebie. You use concave mirrors instead of solar panels. You get 100% efficiency because you don't need any conversion.
I am flattered that the world is catching up to me circa 9th grade (1993) but I have better ideas than this now on my website at http://worldnick.blogspot.com such as the gravity train. Also about 10 minutes after I thought up the idea I also decided it was too dangerous and the amount of power you would lose would be too much. If you can't shoot missiles out of the air with lasers then you can't beam power (well). Anyway check out my gravity train. It is actually theoretically possible. I liked knowing how smart I was back then and I guess I still like it now. I can't say I have much faith left in my fellow man after a plastic surgeon fucked up my face. Collecting solar power from space is still a good idea...
Check this link guys, no need to go to space... http://www.solarroadways.com/Introduction.htm It is possible on the earth itself and it is a far better alternative.
This is a little up in the air (pardon the slight pun). Sure the frequency will be chosen away from the water dipole resonance of 3GHz, and so won't heat water saturated meats up like it would in an oven, but we are still talking about a huge amount of energy. Whatever frequency we choose will be a huge risk and undoubtedly will induce a resonance in some molecule or other. Also as jackgrat intelligently pointed out there is the issue of atmospheric diffraction, plus transmission losses to consider also. I cannot see it being worthwhile to beam it back to Earth. However it could be very worthwhile to build a power farm in space, simply to power Earth's space-based resources. Not only could reusable space ships dock with this power source, but it (along with reflectors/repeaters) could be placed at a lagrange point(s) and beam multiple power streams to various worthy resources. Imagine not having to lug a power source up with every satellite! It would save money, allow for re-usable & expandable design and modularity, and could act as a focus of research effort in solar energy also. The transmission losses would be negligible as the beam would be traveling through a vacuum, and far less dangerous as there are no people/animals around (that we know of :) ).
I read the book a few years ago, it was a lot of effort but in the end it did work....at the time it was sci fi but it looks like the Japanese are going to convert it to reality (maybe). Many of the issues raised here were explored in the book but I can't remember the title. It seems like by the time they really get going on this, the space elevator could be a reality and pay for itself in reduced launch costs. I wonder how many years a gigawatt platform would need to run to pay back the energy required to launch it (current solar cells require 5 years of operation to payback the energy put into making them...high purity silicon is VERY energy intensive to make).
Also - geosynchronous orbits spend a lot more time in the dark than you would think. Every night they spend several hours in Earth's shadow. Solar eclipses may be infrequent on Earth, but are more frequent because of closer proximity to the Moon. Can anyone calculate how much force the solar wind is going to place on 2.5 sq miles of solar array? That load has to corrected for. Either buy brute force (station keeping thrust) or orbit outside of normal (35784 km), which means the hardware would be moving around. That makes the point of aim all the more critical.
Here we go again. Please take some engineering courses before you write about beaming power from space on microwaves. First off, the difference in Solar flux for a ground based collector is barely different than a space based one (500W/sq m vs 750W/sq m). A concentrated solar cell is about 40% efficient, only if you can get rid of the heat. That is easy to do on the ground, and the heat can be harvested to run steam power conversion. All of this adds weight, and it costs about $5000/lbs for low earth orbit. Figure this structure will clock in at about 20,000lbs, or about $100million just to launch. Then you have a fleet of them to overfly your receiving point. Think Irridium, they went bankrupt before getting the whole fleet on the air, and just lost one to a collision with a wayward Soviet satellite. Putting the satellite in geosynchronous orbit cost about 4X more. Now think about how long the hardware has to tolerate being operational. It takes station keeping thrust to stay on orbit. Plan on replacing the thing every 10 years. Now you want to irradiate some piece of real estate with 100KW/sq m RF energy. After you've cleared all the air traffic for miles around, any buzzard unlucky enough to follow the stench of death that it will attract will add to the kill radius. Imagine what it will take to service the receiving array. Put on a chain-mail suit like used in high tension wire service. Hike for miles to get to the site. OK build a shielded tunnel to get there. Then use non-conducting tools to work around the hardware. Now factor in some reality of the physics of the whole thing. You don't get a nice little spot on the ground like a flashlight. Diffraction effects will produce an "airy disk" around your target, so you will have to cordon off more than 100X the area of primary footprint for the side lobes. More physics, the Earth doesn't like you mucking around with the planetary geomagnetics. Whatever EMP you plan to put down in the desert somewhere is going to be re-imaged 180 degrees around on the other side of the globe. This is one of the reasons why we stopped doing nuclear tests, it had a nasty habit of knocking out the communications and hardware in places we didn't intend. That was back in the 50's and 60's, before everyone had a PC and an iPod. Add a little havoc like this today, and it'll be be more than a few penguins that get sunburned.
Thanks for the technical education Ad Astra. The whole thng looks a bit like "heavier than air flight" to me. Can't possibly beam that much energy that far... can they?
Has anyone really thought about this? It is seriously stupid AND a waste of money. Let us solve the global warming issue by putting the Earth in a microwave - BRILLIANT! This will only be a good idea if we can come up with a heat-sink that will bleed off more heat than this additional radiation will cause.
Beamed power will not significantly add to the global warming problem. Global warming is the cumulative effect of CO2 emissions, and focuses on how much heat the Earth's upper atmosphere retains. The amount of additional energy added to the Earth's energy balance from a solar orbital plant is nearly one quadrillionth trillionth of what hits the planet normally from daylight (which is about 174 petawatts.) We'd need a lot of orbital energy platforms to change this. For those who don't remember from physics class: Tera = 1000 Giga Exa = 1000 Tera Peta = 1000 Exa We'd be getting a bit shy of 1 quadrillionth the extra energy. Now, as to the ravening death beam: First, they're going to pick a microwave frequency that the Earth's atmosphere is transparent to. This means the beam won't interact with things in its beam path; that includes water vapor. Everyone's image of a ravening microwave death beam comes from using their microwave ovens, which are microwaves designed to interact with water molecules and heat them up. Second, the satellite will be set up in geosynchronous orbit, which means that it stays over the same spot on the Earth's surface - while the beam will move relative to the ground, that motion will be measured in centimeters over the course of many orbits. It's not going to 'carve a swath through a city' like you see on Saturday morning cartoons. Third, because of the wavelength needed to get through the Earth's atmosphere, the likely receiver will be a grid of wires (almost like a chain link fence) up on posts; the rest will be handed by radio frequency inductance. Because these beams will spread as they come down (a function of their very long wavelengths), the average watts per square meter on the wire should be fairly low - probably no higher than being around a cell phone tower or a radio transmitter tower. Not that there aren't hazards - anything around the beam path is going to have horrible cell phone and WiFi reception unless they're very clever. On the other hand, using WiFi or a cell phone around a high tension power already has this.
Isn't this exactly the opposite of what we want to combat global warming? Collecting solar energy which would otherwise miss our planet will increase the total solar energy arriving here, and increase global warming. These guys need to go back to school!
...solved by satellites in space. Except if there is a control error, caused by solar flares or terrorism or whatever then the satellite is raking a path of burning destruction across the land until they can control it. I suppose that a hard-wired safety could be enabled to prevent transmission if a specific localization beam is not received, bet even that could be circumvented. With Japan being so densely populated, a gigawatt beam of microwave radiation would toast a lot of people fast. On the plus side, you could aim it at the ocean to vaporize water and create clouds over areas that need them....
Won't this cause a tremendous amount of microwave pollution? I don't think I'd want to be near the collecting dish.