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Power Space Technology

Energy-Beaming Space Collector To Also Alter Weather? 274

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the don't-microwave-me-bro dept.
Recently we covered California utility company PG&E's ambitious deal with upstart Solaren to beam energy to earth from a space-based solar collector. What we didn't know is Solaren's patent also covers the alteration of weather elements with that very same system. "By heating up the upper and middle levels of an infant hurricane, they say they could disrupt the flows of air that power the enormous storms. Air warmed by tropical waters flows up through a hurricane and is vented through the eye into the upper atmosphere. Theoretically, you could heat up the top of the storm and lower the pressure differential between layers, resulting in a weaker storm. "
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Energy-Beaming Space Collector To Also Alter Weather?

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  • So.. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 20, 2009 @01:58PM (#27649107)
    We might be giving a company the power to change our weather? Not sure how I feel about this..
    • Re:So..[.] (Score:2, Insightful)

      by kandela (835710)
      Yeah, because co-operatively we are doing a great job of maintaining and looking after the current weather patterns.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by sudotron (1459285)
      You think that's bad? Just wait until the government introduces a new "hurricane prevention excise tax".
    • by bencoder (1197139)
      Better than any government having that power.
      • by cromar (1103585)
        More or less, there isn't much difference between large corporations and governments. I'm sure Disney has more sway in the world than say Virginia (USA) or even a coalition of states. Both are after your money; at least gov't (supposedly) represents its people.
        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by waddleman (1230926)
          Yea, but the government has the authority to use force. Disney can loop "It's a Small World." Pick your poison.
    • We might be giving a company the power to change our weather? Not sure how I feel about this..

      Perhaps like a butterfly flapping its wings?

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by DJRumpy (1345787)
      Wouldn't it be wiser to steer a storm with high pressure 'bumps' rather than weakening them? They do serve a purpose after all. I'd rather someone didn't much about with mother nature unnecessarily.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by peragrin (659227)

        hurricanes release a lot of energy. If that energy isn't released I would hate to see what happens.

    • We might be giving a company the power to change our weather? Not sure how I feel about this..

      It would be really expensive for them to do it. They'd have to put a LOT of power into a beam that they could otherwise sell. Like enough to heat up a bunch of clouds - or power several cities for hours.

      (They'd also have to retune the beam from a band that passes through water - and birds, cows, people, etc. to one that is strongly absorbed. Or they'd have to have built TWO sets of transmitters - with one used o

  • Lots o' power (Score:5, Insightful)

    by NormalVisual (565491) on Monday April 20, 2009 @02:02PM (#27649175)
    That's gonna need to be an *awfully* big collector to harvest enough energy to make the slightest difference to a hurricane...
    • Re:Lots o' power (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Shivani1141 (996696) on Monday April 20, 2009 @02:06PM (#27649259)
      Not to mention the fact that we obviously perfectly understand the power and role of a hurricane in terms of global weather patterns...

      Am I the only one concerned what might happen to other weather systems if we suddenly start damping hurricanes? the energy to form a hurricane comes from somewhere, if we're adding more to kill a hurricane, where is this new net total going to express itself?

      • by mea37 (1201159)
        Global warming.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by postbigbang (761081)

        I'm sure they've done experimenting with all of this. Nothing will happen. Don't worry about the GPS positioning in your cell phone. No weapon could reach you as you walk down the street.

        Seriously folks-- does the sound of someone beaming down terajoules from the sky make you just a little bit nervous? Imagine a solar sun spot causing a sudden atmospheric defraction that sends the beam to say, Tucson by mistake?

        I think this needs a lot of examination before it goes into pilot, let alone production.

      • Re:Lots o' power (Score:5, Insightful)

        by 0100010001010011 (652467) on Monday April 20, 2009 @02:26PM (#27649649)

        Probably the same as a 'no burn' policy put in place in most forests a century ago. Eventually the dry stuff builds up to the point where when it does catch fire, you're fucked.

        Imagine a hurricane formed with the energy from 5-10 damped out storms.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by kabocox (199019)

          Probably the same as a 'no burn' policy put in place in most forests a century ago. Eventually the dry stuff builds up to the point where when it does catch fire, you're fucked.

          Imagine a hurricane formed with the energy from 5-10 damped out storms.

          Oh, you are underestimating things. Imagine it "working" for 5-10 years or decades and then all the sudden new hurricanes are 50-100 times more powerful for a few years.

          • by CorporateSuit (1319461) on Monday April 20, 2009 @02:55PM (#27650129)

            Probably the same as a 'no burn' policy put in place in most forests a century ago. Eventually the dry stuff builds up to the point where when it does catch fire, you're fucked.

            Imagine a hurricane formed with the energy from 5-10 damped out storms.

            Oh, you are underestimating things. Imagine it "working" for 5-10 years or decades and then all the sudden new hurricanes are 50-100 times more powerful for a few years.

            There's nothing to worry about. We've been controlling storms for 50 years now. The sky is still blue, the clouds still white, the ocean still sparkling, and although we did have a few scares last year (some big, red ones you wouldn't believe!), nothing has come through that our energy beams haven't been able to divert!

            Glax Northog
            Solar Satellites of Jupiter, Inc.
            Posted 4:29 PM, September 8th 780000000 BC

        • by mikael (484)

          Given the temperature of the ocean surface at the areas where these hurricanes form, either the water evaporates and the air becomes humid, or the lower layers of oceans would start to heat up. Having this warm humid air rise and then cool off seems to be a built-in cooling system of the earth's climate. If the warm air didn't rise and end up forming a rotating system, would the hurricanes just become warm fronts/cold fronts instead?


        • Imagine a hurricane formed with the energy from 5-10 damped out storms.

          Blows my mind...
      • by Lumpy (12016)

        What could possibly go wrong?

        Anything done for good = good outcome.

        I'm going shopping for a older home with a fallout bunker under it, can I get wifi down there?

      • Re:Lots o' power (Score:5, Informative)

        by Robotbeat (461248) on Monday April 20, 2009 @02:47PM (#27650007) Journal

        Reality doesn't work like that. Science is not some sort of alchemy where any "good" that you do has to be balanced with "bad" done elsewhere. Sure, entropy always increases, but that doesn't mean that lessening the impact of a natural disaster means you're upsetting some karmic balance. Every day without a hurricane does not increase the intensity of the next hurricane. Hurricanes are only one way that heat can be transported from the ocean's surface to elsewhere.

      • But thats the way we as a race seem to work - use technologies without understanding their consequences in the hope that by the time the consequences manifest, we'll be in a position to deal with them or they won't affect us - the "Shoot first, ask questions later" approach. May have worked for us till now...not sure about the future.
      • by vertinox (846076)

        the energy to form a hurricane comes from somewhere, if we're adding more to kill a hurricane, where is this new net total going to express itself?

        Build more windmills.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Cmdr-Absurd (780125)
      1. You attack the hurricane when the storm is small (less than hurricane force).
      2. You are capturing solar power (which is responsible for creating the hurricane in the first place.)
      3. There is that whole butterfly effect thing...
      4. What are the unintended consequences?
      • I always wondered if someone set off a large explosive in the eye or center of a hurricane what would happen? Would it be enough to break up the storm? Would it do nothing? We would most likely still get the rain but no hurricane force winds. Maybe less of a storm surge as well.

        Nothing nuclear conventional explosives only. Anyone know of a simulator where this could be tested? Writing one from scratch might take a while.

        • Re:Lots o' power (Score:5, Insightful)

          by chris mazuc (8017) on Monday April 20, 2009 @02:30PM (#27649709)
          From the National Hurricane Center [noaa.gov]:

          The main difficulty with using explosives to modify hurricanes is the amount of energy required. A fully developed hurricane can release heat energy at a rate of 5 to 20x10^13 watts and converts less than 10% of the heat into the mechanical energy of the wind. The heat release is equivalent to a 10-megaton nuclear bomb exploding every 20 minutes. According to the 1993 World Almanac, the entire human race used energy at a rate of 10^13 watts in 1990, a rate less than 20% of the power of a hurricane.

          • by BSAtHome (455370)

            I think that there is a lot more power in there. The water content, assuming a 250x250km area that can be soaked in 10cm of water would be, at least, 250 exaJoule (250*10^18, temperature drop from +27 sea water to +17 degrees C rain). The scale of a storm is even in excess of these dimensions. So, conversion of the power at a 10^12 rate to mechanical energy is peanuts compared to the real energy content.

            If you manage to generate power in space at the 10^15 scale, then you might do a very local change of pat

          • We should be trying to create hurricanes, not stop them. Then put... Wind turbines in the way to harvest the energy.
             

          • Wow, so it's actually a possibility then. I hadn't realized we were that close. Or the human energy use thing: at only 5x the power usage of the entire human race, that means that the total yearly energy is actually quite a bit less than the total human energy usage.

            "we" definitely know how to build 10 MT bombs in volume. The only question is how many you'd need to effect a positive outcome for a given storm.

        • by ppanon (16583)

          I always wondered if someone set off a large explosive in the eye or center of a hurricane what would happen? Would it be enough to break up the storm?

          Well, it was first speculated upon in a French science fiction comic book [wikipedia.org] in the late 70s. Roger Leloup didn't stop at your limitations either.

          • I think the concept had been around for quite a while by then; I tend to attribute it to the Project-Orion-era speculations about what you could do with nuclear bombs (spacecraft, digging canals, the whole Atoms for Peace shtick), but even if that wasn't the origin, the concept had been hanging around science fiction for a while by the late 70s.

            A large explosion probably could stop a tornado, but hurricanes are much much bigger, and you'd need to do something to actually dissipate the heat energy that's dri

      • 4. What are the unintended consequences?

        For starters, hurricanes play a role in climate regulation, and that role is the transport of heat away from equatorial regions and into the extratropical zone. It is theorized that if humans break that mechanism by preventing hurricane formation, we will end up with fewer storms, but those that do form will be incredibly devastating as they feed off the "surplus" latent oceanic heat.

        • by eleuthero (812560)
          so can we just use the ray gun on non-hurricane areas to create storms elsewhere that are of lower power than a hurricane? It seems like we should be trying to create low level storms that wick away the heat to prevent hurricane creation. Of course, if there are no hurricanes, some type of plant in the Amazon or someplace will probably not germinate and then the spotted owl frog monkey beaver will die and with it the basin tree frog ant and all of civilization will fail.
    • Re:Lots o' power (Score:4, Informative)

      by AKAImBatman (238306) * <akaimbatman @ g m a i l . c om> on Monday April 20, 2009 @03:28PM (#27650709) Homepage Journal

      That's gonna need to be an *awfully* big collector

      Nah. I spoke with a space/nuclear engineer on this once. He had worked it out in grad school using a Brayton cycle engine. (i.e. closed loop gas turbine) The engine itself is extremely power dense and would have more mass for cooling than heating. (Think large fins on the dark side, running fluids through to exhaust heat as black body radiation.)

      The trick to collecting large amounts of sunlight would be massive mylar sails. The sails would be deployed as large mirrors. These mirrors would reflect the solar energy toward the power-producing engine. This way you could get a massive footprint in space while still having a relatively light launch package.

      His idea was better than mine; which was to construct a massive Stirling engine near the sun to absorb 3GW of power at near-failure temperatures. :-P

  • Really, how do you insure this endeavor? A private company even attempting such a thing on the smallest of storms becomes incredibly liable.

    But it goes further than that. If you can heat a store how can you assure people that it is safe to start streaming power to earth?

    • Really, how do you insure this endeavor? A private company even attempting such a thing on the smallest of storms becomes incredibly liable.

      Not if they spend much less money than the liability they would avoid to simply lobby Congress to craft laws categorically immunizing them from liability.

    • by nonlnear (893672)
      Simple: the same way you insure against mortgage defaults...
    • You can buy insurance for anything for the right price. I'll sell insurance for your highly questionable global weather changing machine.

      Let's start the premiums at 500 a month. As in trillions of dollars.

  • with this technology you have a sound basis for a middling james bond movie cum car commercial involving halle berry, icelandic henchman, and rogue north korean generals

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Die_Another_Day [wikipedia.org]

    • by Aereus (1042228)

      We could also detonate nuclear bombs in the center of the Earth. Brilliant!

    • with this technology you have a sound basis for a middling james bond movie cum car commercial involving halle berry, icelandic henchman, and rogue north korean generals

      A.K.A. one of the worst Bond movies ever. The premise was insane, the CGI was absolutely awful and the locations were ridiculous. It made me miss the old Bond movies. Thank God Casino Royale brought us back to something resembling reality.

      • any movie starring denise richards as a nuclear physicist has to be scraping the bottom of the barrel

      • A.K.A. one of the worst Bond movies ever. The premise was insane,
        Worse than Octopussy? As for the premise it was just diamonds are forever w/ N. Korea instead of Spectre.

        • You may have a point about Octopussy... but at one point he's surfing on a wave that looks like it came out of a super nintendo game... it's just plain awful.
  • by Reality Master 201 (578873) on Monday April 20, 2009 @02:06PM (#27649247) Journal

    If ever a story deserved that tag, this is it.

  • Download: every time a pacific storm is brewing, they have to shut of power to California to deal with the storm...

    Upside: the rolling brownouts in California over the last few years where not accidents, they where training!

  • by JoshuaZ (1134087) on Monday April 20, 2009 @02:09PM (#27649303) Homepage
    Even if the technology doesn't work out patenting the basic idea costs them comparatively little. Given how much money they are investing in this and the possible massive benefits filing the patent seems like the right move even if it is unlikely to work.
  • Prior art (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 20, 2009 @02:09PM (#27649319)

    Didn't Cobra already do this in like 1985?

  • Airplanes? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by flattop100 (624647) on Monday April 20, 2009 @02:09PM (#27649323)
    I'm guessing it would be disastrous for an airplane to fly in the "beam", no?
    • by geekmux (1040042) on Monday April 20, 2009 @02:18PM (#27649477)

      I'm guessing it would be disastrous for an airplane to fly in the "beam", no?

      Ah, since apparently a commercial airliner can be brought down with an iPod Click Wheel being used during takeoff or landing, I'd give your query a resounding yes...

    • Yeah, it would be much better if they just flew into the hurricane.

    • Re:Airplanes? (Score:4, Informative)

      by argent (18001) <peter.slashdot@2006@taronga@com> on Monday April 20, 2009 @02:44PM (#27649937) Homepage Journal

      The peak power density at the center of the beam at it intersects the rectenna is on the order of 300 watts per square meter (W/m2) or 30 miliwatts per square centimeter (mW/cm2).

      Studies have shown that at 25mW/cm2, some birds exhibit behaviors suggesting they might be able to detect microwave radiation. If true, some migratory birds, flying above the rectenna, might suffer disruption of their flying paths.

      This is from a NASA study of the safety of space-based solar power. I believe the original studies were done in the '70s because I recall almost identical wording from a glossy NASA coffee-table book on space colonies I picked up at the Smithsonian in 1978.

      That's not "death ray" levels. Planes are probably OK, but it could be a problem for birds.

      Another point that occurs to me: solar insolation at the equator is around 1kW/m2. The tests mentioned above are 25% of that level. I suspect that the birds were becoming uncomfortably warm.

    • No, The beams are microwave beams with a little more power density than the midday sun. If you walked into them you would not likely know they were there for a while.

      They are not the water heating microwaves either, they are the tuned so as not to interact with water or atmosphere kind. You might induce a current in an aluminum shell airplane, but I would guess static forces with air flow might build up even more charge.

      • So, this forces me to ask the question, if the energy will not heat up water (and presumably water vapor) how is it going to do the whole heat up the top of the hurricane (or pre-hurricane storm) to diminish/ prevent the hurricane? Something is not adding up.
  • by Xiver (13712) on Monday April 20, 2009 @02:11PM (#27649361)
    It's a chemical laser but in solid, not gaseous, form. Put simply, in deference to you, Kent, it's like lasing a stick of dynamite. As soon as we apply a field, we couple to a state, it is radiatively coupled to the ground state. I figure we can extract at least ten to the twenty-first photons per cubic centimeter which will give one kilojoule per cubic centimeter at 600 nanometers, or, one megajoule per liter.

    But what would you use that for?
  • Geoengineering (Score:5, Interesting)

    by bendodge (998616) <bendodge@nOSPam.bsgprogrammers.com> on Monday April 20, 2009 @02:15PM (#27649427) Homepage Journal

    I recently read an article on "geoengineering"; apparently it's gaining traction and was discussed in one of Obama's cabinet meetings as global warming emergency brake. It appears that this is real: we really could mess with our atm. cheaply and quickly. What I find most interesting about the whole concept, besides whatcouldpossiblygowrong, is what people like Pete Geddes of the Foundation for Research on Economics and the Environment (FREE) say against it:

    Let's say we came up with a way to scrub carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere that works and is cheap. That would mean we could go on emitting carbon. The environmentalists' reaction, I think, would be, 'No, that's unacceptable, because what we really have to be doing is reducing our fossil fuels and use of energy.' That's just ridiculous. People would lose all sorts of faith in environmentalism.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Rockoon (1252108)
      Thats why the IPCC never ever ever lends any consideration to geoengineering when they produce their Assessment Reports.

      Think of all the funding they would lose when it turns out that it will only cost a million or so dollars a year for the right to pick a global mean temperature anc achieve it. Not to mention the fact that we would likely pick one that is higher than it is today...
      • by hawkfish (8978)

        Think of all the funding they would lose when it turns out that it will only cost a million or so dollars a year for the right to pick a global mean temperature and achieve it.

        Fixing atmospheric carbon takes about as much energy as was generated when it was first dumped into the atmosphere in the first place. So if you can generate all the fixed carbon that the world currently uses for power generation at a cost of USD1e6 pa then you my friend have a serious business plan and the goons from Exxon will be taking you out any day now.

        (In fact, this is what some of the algae biodiesel plans could be used for, but I doubt their operating costs are anything like that low.)

  • by A. B3ttik (1344591) on Monday April 20, 2009 @02:21PM (#27649533)
    Apparently, the power plant [gamefaqs.com] would be completed in 2020, have an expected output of 1600 megawatts, last for 50 years, and cost only $28 Million.

    Personally, I think that while our Coal Plants are dirty, they should last well up until 2050, when Fusion Power is expected to showcase.
  • by goodmanj (234846) on Monday April 20, 2009 @02:22PM (#27649557)

    No, no, no, no, no. Hurricanes are driven by the warm air released from condensation in their centers. This causes low pressure at that location, leading to swirling motions and inflow at low altitude.

    Adding more heat at the center of the hurricane will make the hurricane *STRONGER*. It doesn't matter what altitude you add the heat.

    Keep your orbital death ray away from my weather until you've taken a basic meteorology course, morons.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      Exactly. You need cold, so the only real solution is to detonate a nuclear device deep under the ocean in front of the hurricane so that the upwelling of cold water saps the storm of its strength. Find a flaw in that plan! I dare you!!!!

      I can out mad scientist ANYONE! Muh ha ha ha! :-)

    • Don't tell them that. It'll be much more fun that way.

    • You did notice that the DOD might be interested in this, yes? A hurricane sent into a number of countries could help us out. And not be easily detectable.
  • I don't want to be within 200 miles of their aim point. Being anywhere near their beam is like being in a huge microwave oven. It will surely cook your insides.

    If their beam drifts due to excessive pointing error, watch out. Somebody is going to get baked. Probably a whole town.

    How may miles radius do they have to empty of people to even get an earth reception station built for the power transmission? How do they clear the ocean target area of shipping if they were to try this on a storm?

    These guys are

    • by Lumpy (12016)

      AP news release Feb 23 2023....

      Midwest town evaporates in 12 seconds.

      During a routine systems check the orbital power station lost attitude control for 27 seconds and drifted off it's station point by 0.1 degrees, the nearby town was vaporized near instantly.

      when confronted the company executives said, "it's no big loss, only level 4 personnel lived there, and the town was a dump anyways. This event will actually help the economy by ending the Depression. It just opened up 8500 jobs alone and caused the n

    • Given that they're using this on a hurricane, I don't think getting boats out of the way will be an issue. I'm pretty sure the storm itself is enough to dissuade anyone from being in the general vicinity.
  • uhm yea... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by papasui (567265) on Monday April 20, 2009 @02:58PM (#27650187) Homepage
    I'm not sure what worries more, the fact that its possible that we might have the technology to do this in the next decade or that we would consider using it..
  • a kid burn ants with a magnifiying glass? Better get some SPF-200000 bitches.
  • for "chance of furious beam of death raining down from the heavens"

    i know i know, just wishful thinking of cool stuff this thing should be capable of. BTW, has anyone made reasonable calculations to determine how much energy we would have to shoot into a storm system to have ANY affect? it feels still firmly in the realm of fantasy.
  • Anyone remember microwave plants in simcity 2000?

    What happens when the beam misses?

    For that matter, what are we going to do about giant spherical floating iron claw aliens?
  • How could they patent such a idea? Does the patent office lay claim to things in Orbit? If so could you, as a patent holder, sue China as their spy satellites pass over your patent holding country?
    The patent is fully of if's could's & theoretically. The patent should be for something the YOU, as the patent holder, can do and could do and would use a means to hold the world hostage to your mad empire desires!
  • by changa (197280) on Monday April 20, 2009 @03:33PM (#27650815) Homepage

    Wouldn't it be easier to just find that god-damed butterfly that causes all those hurricanes?

  • Heating anywhere within a storm, even in the upper levels would be adding energy to the system. I don't see how heating the higher cooling levels of rising air would do anything but accelerate the storm. This is a weapon?

    More realistically a sunshade cooling the ocean surface in the path of the storm would weaken it.
  • I think they should at least think of calling the satellite a "Death Star" and it can be contracted out to corporate entities to help... disinfect certain areas of their domain with high power beams of energy.

  • Destro: "No force on Earth is a match for...nature...gone...mad! Muhahahahahahhaha!"
  • Liability. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Mal-2 (675116) on Monday April 20, 2009 @06:13PM (#27653441) Homepage Journal

    Say they damp what would have been a Category 5 storm aimed at New Orleans. They succeed at damping it down to a Category 3, but it slams into Galveston instead because it no longer has the energy to make the northward turn. Who is liable for the damage done to Galveston and Houston?

    Barring new laws holding them harmless from such scenarios, I don't think this will get off the ground for this very reason. No matter where they divert a storm, someone gains and someone loses (though not in a zero-sum manner).

    Mal-2

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