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Power Science

Beamed Space Solar Power Plant To Open In 2016? 512

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the duck-duck-burn dept.
Eric_S writes "Anybody who managed to get a decent city going in Sim City 2000 remembers the microwave power plant; now it seems like a real-world equivalent might be coming up on the horizon. The Pacific Gas and Electricity Company, per this 'interview' with the CEO of Solaren on their affiliated site, announced PG&E's plans to buy 200MW of base-load power from a Solaren beamed space solar power plant by 2016." I wish the skeptic in me would be quiet.
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Beamed Space Solar Power Plant To Open In 2016?

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  • In Space (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday June 25, 2009 @09:28AM (#28465477)

    In space nobody can hear your company go bankrupt.

    There will be a lot of pissed off investors on Earth though.

  • by hargrand (1301911) on Thursday June 25, 2009 @09:30AM (#28465507)

    ... even if they haven't got a clue as to how financially reckless they're being. You kind of have to admire that.

  • by Mitchell314 (1576581) on Thursday June 25, 2009 @09:58AM (#28465811)
    [off topic] You can make the world's largest microwave oven... [/off topic]

    I noticed this little tid bit:
    200 megawatts of clean, renewable power over a 15 year period.

    How much does that compare to the energy needed for getting it up in space, getting routine maintenance & repair up in space, the maintenance & repair itself, and possible decommissioning?
  • Re:Human Size Ants (Score:4, Insightful)

    by b4upoo (166390) on Thursday June 25, 2009 @10:05AM (#28465879)

    Then again perhaps we can use an albatross to lift this system into orbit as we certainly lack launch capacity for almost anything right now.

  • Re:Global warming? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Sir_Lewk (967686) <(moc.liamg) (ta) (kwelris)> on Thursday June 25, 2009 @10:08AM (#28465923)

    What exactly is the issue with diversifying our efforts? There is no rule that states we can only work on one type of technology at a time. I'm tired of all of this "we shouldn't be doing X before we do Y" crap.

  • by zygotic mitosis (833691) on Thursday June 25, 2009 @10:19AM (#28466059)
    Everybody wins!
  • by daveime (1253762) on Thursday June 25, 2009 @10:49AM (#28466411)

    I just love this kind of objection.

    How much does that compare to the energy needed for getting it up in space, getting routine maintenance & repair up in space, the maintenance & repair itself, and possible decommissioning?

    So digging / drilling coal and oil out of the ground, and all the processing, transportation and generation infrastructure involved in fossil fuels cost nothing ?

    I think the important point is, *once* the infrastructure for these new renewable energy forms is in place, the power itself comes at zero cost ... wind, sun and water costs nothing ... and doesn't involve the clean up that say coal, oil or nuclear does.

    How to decommission a space based reflector ? Switch the thing off. Done. For extra good measure, fit a booster rocket to it, so we can fire it off into deep space once we're done with it.

    A far cry from safely storing materials with a half life of 10,000 years, or getting rid of all the carbon dioxide we've pumped into the atmosphere in the last 150 years dues to coal and oil.

  • by blind biker (1066130) on Thursday June 25, 2009 @10:50AM (#28466423) Journal

    For specific kinds of applications, yes, there is demand. DARPA is interested in this, because electronics use, and there fore electricity use, by the military has expanded tremendously, even in remote locations. A diesel generator has to receive a constant supply of fuel. This is very expensive and inconvenient on the top of a mountain in Afghanistan. A solar power receiving station doesn't. The power supply is invulnerable to attack. The receiving station doesn't make constant noise. In such contexts, power delivered at rates an order of magnitude higher than commercial generation is very competitive.

    Invulnerable, huh? [msn.com]

  • Re:200MW. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by QuoteMstr (55051) <dan.colascione@gmail.com> on Thursday June 25, 2009 @10:59AM (#28466529)

    The Environmentalist's Fallacy

    It goes something like this:

    1. Consider a technology X that replaces a polluting technology Y
    2. Identify some aspect of X that produces pollution
    3. Oppose X for this pollution while ignoring the pollution Y produces

    In reality, X produces far less overall pollution than Y.

    I've seen this argument used to oppose:

    • The Prius (Nickel mining)
    • Nuclear power (Uranium mining, nuclear waste)
    • Solar power (Semiconductor manufacturing, altering desert ecosystems)
    • Orbital microwave power (Rocket exhaust)
    • Hydroelectric power (Salmon migration)
    • Wind power (Birds)

    All of these are great technologies. If we're ever to make any progress, we have to learn to think past the environmentalist's fallacy.

  • by hardburn (141468) <hardburn@wumpu[ ]ave.net ['s-c' in gap]> on Thursday June 25, 2009 @11:06AM (#28466613)

    how do you collimate the beam tightly enough that it doesn't spread out and you lose most of the power?

    You don't. You use a rectenna (basically just a grid of metal) spread over farm fields, with plenty of light getting through to grow crops underneath.

  • by geekoid (135745) <dadinportland&yahoo,com> on Thursday June 25, 2009 @11:15AM (#28466713) Homepage Journal

    That report is heavily biased, and overlooks details like the fact that microwave ovens are rated as such becasue the don't run for extended periods of time.
    The exposure time from a beamed microwave signal will be for an extended period.
    It also overlooks the fact that the math doesn't seem to add up.

    None of that matter, becasue it is cost prohibitive compared to earth based solution.
    For the cost of the launch alone, you could build a 200MW Solar thermal plant and have enough money to light cigars with 100 bills for the rest of your life.

    This will die and the oil companies will shrug and say "Hey, we tried."

  • Re:Miss (Score:5, Insightful)

    by AdmiralXyz (1378985) on Thursday June 25, 2009 @11:47AM (#28467091)

    You mean the laws of physics prevent the system from generating a beam without the ground reflector? I don't think so.

    Explain it or I call bullshit. To be honest, I'll probably still call bullshit, but you deserve a chance anyway.

    Translation: "I am already locked into believing that this technology is dangerous, and no matter how much solid scientific evidence you provide to the contrary, I will continue to believe that."

    And for the record, the GP is right: without the reflection from the ground station, the transmitter cannot form a coherent beam.

  • Re:Human Size Ants (Score:3, Insightful)

    by QuoteMstr (55051) <dan.colascione@gmail.com> on Thursday June 25, 2009 @11:55AM (#28467201)

    He's right [google.com]:

    Each geosynchronous eclipse season lasts about 46 days and the maximum duration of the eclipse in each season is about 72 minutes

    For practical purposes, a geosynchronous orbit's solar irradiation is close enough to constant that it doesn't matter. If your satellite is actually solar thermal, then it really doesn't matter.

    Hell, the mains power goes out more often than that here in Buffalo, NY.

  • Re:In Space (Score:2, Insightful)

    by dyingtolive (1393037) <brad.arnett@notf ... g ['hir' in gap]> on Thursday June 25, 2009 @12:06PM (#28467383)
    [Citation Needed]

    And every time this story comes up, someone makes a unverified post blasting someone's post based on fear. How sad. Please remind me, how many times have YOU subjected an ecosystem to increased concentrations of directed microwave emissions? How many times has it been completely harmless to the inhabitants? Did you allow the test to continue through several generations to verify that there was no long term damage? Where are you getting your research data from? That knife cuts both ways. Don't get me wrong, I think new tech is exciting and promising, and I love the idea of cheap plentiful energy. Pointing out the flaws in someone's beliefs is one thing, but the unnecessary snarkyness about it is uncalled for when there is no proof on your own end. Here, this is for you. [wikipedia.org]
  • by Ambitwistor (1041236) on Thursday June 25, 2009 @12:10PM (#28467431)

    I think there are some national security implications inherent in relocating all of Europe's electric power generation capacity to Africa. I hope nobody in Africa minds European armies building bases there to guard their energy sources.

  • Re:Human Size Ants (Score:5, Insightful)

    by QuoteMstr (55051) <dan.colascione@gmail.com> on Thursday June 25, 2009 @12:11PM (#28467447)

    Don't try this bullshit of 'its perfectly safe nothing can possibly go wrong' because it just makes it obvious you either are full of shit/hiding the truth, or just stupid.

    We've lived with radio waves all over the place for over a century. Countless studies have shown that electromagnetic radiation produces no deleterious effects. The burden of proof is on you to come up with repeatable experiments providing evidence for falsifiable claims that radio waves are harmful at the levels proposed.

  • Re:In Space (Score:5, Insightful)

    by QuoteMstr (55051) <dan.colascione@gmail.com> on Thursday June 25, 2009 @12:17PM (#28467539)

    Ah, environmentalists:

    Reasonable people: Let's use this wonderful new technology!
    Environmentalists: No way! It's dangerous!
    Reasonable people: Err, no it's not. The technology is based on well-understood principles we've been using for decades.
    Environmentalists: But how do you know that this particular combination of principles won't cause some damage! You have to prove it. Do you have any evidence that this technology doesn't hurt anything?
    Reasonable people: Okay, we'll humor you. Let's run an experiment.
    Environmentalists: No testing! We don't know whether this technology is safe! You might hurt someone or something!

    Come on. You should know better. We know what microwaves do at the energy densities indicated. We have absolutely no reason to believe they might cause wide-scale changes to ecosystems. The burden of proof is on you to show that there is actually a harmful effect.

  • Re:In Space (Score:3, Insightful)

    by QuoteMstr (55051) <dan.colascione@gmail.com> on Thursday June 25, 2009 @12:32PM (#28467777)

    believe cell tower microwaves are similarly non-water exciting, but technicians do NOT stand in front of live ones for fear of losing the ability to reproduce.

    "All substances are poisons; there is none which is not a poison. The right dose differentiates a poison...."

    Paracelsus had no way of anticipating photons, but they act the same way. Regular old light is harmful if sufficient concentration, and gamma rays are harmless at low enough ones. (Which is why we're not building shields against gamma ray bursts.)

  • Re:In Space (Score:5, Insightful)

    by gnuotaku (1237856) on Thursday June 25, 2009 @12:39PM (#28467891)
    You can tell an environmentalist had mod points because this is modded troll. The fact is though, we *do* understand microwaves pretty damn well. I'd say we understand them better than a lot of other physical phenomena (I'm a physics undergrad). His point about the environmentalists is spot on. It happens all the time: look at nuclear power plants. Chernobyl _could never happen again_, but that's flaunted around by all those do-gooder enviros. And the truth is that we understand nuclear plants pretty damn well, and we build extremely safe ones now. But that's not enough. The environmentalists hurt the environment more by stifling innnovation than any amount of space power satellites ever would. Hell, more birds die from collisions with planes and high rises, but no one is calling for us to ban those. It's FUD, and it's bullshit. These are the same people that are cheering on wind energy: hate to break it to you, but wind mills are far more dangerous to birds and wildlife than a microwave beam.
  • Re:woot! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by ckaminski (82854) <ckaminski@pobo[ ]om ['x.c' in gap]> on Thursday June 25, 2009 @12:52PM (#28468091) Homepage
    Hookers and blow BEFORE the world ends, dude. That's where.
  • by goombah99 (560566) on Thursday June 25, 2009 @01:15PM (#28468485)

    Let's not forget PCBs and DDT and Mercury based felt hats and lead paint as all things that were WIDELT beleived to be safe and a boon to mankind until they turned out not to be.
      Id say the jury is still out on long term problems with cell phones and powerlines. People are only now rethinking the subtle effects of heat islands produced by cities. And there's some concern that the plasticizers in water bottles is now showing up in human organs.

    It was not long ago people figured out some animals use magnetic fields and polarized light to navigate. Just to make something up, suppose that polarized microwave transimission were to interferre with that. Perhaps indirectly. for example an oscillating dipole can orient molecules even if they don't strictly speaking absorb. Light scattering off oriented molecules in turn can get polarized. I'm not saying this is a problem. I'm just saying it's pretty glib to say "bah, there's no harm is such a massive experiment"

    We don't know why things like asthma and toxic allergies seem to be on the rise in children. Over diagnosis seems to not be the problem so presumably their are systemic origins like say plasticizers we have yet to discover.

  • by 2short (466733) on Thursday June 25, 2009 @01:20PM (#28468563)
    "We know the distance"
    Pointlessly distant. We know the distance to geosyncronous orbit too.

    "we know it's movements"
    We know the movements of geosynchronous satellites too.

    "it doesn't involve putting up more floating space junk"
    You mean besides the discarded booster rockets needed to get such a ridiculously further distance out just so we can deal with the difficulties of an additional gravity well?

    "it's surface is always facing the sun"
    If by "always", you mean half the time - 14 days out of every 28.

    "unlike a synchronous satalite, would be our of the sun for at least a few hours"
    If by "a few hours" you mean "about an hour a night, but only for a short period every six months near the equinox"

    "(depending on distance) "
    Did I say "we" knew the distance to geosynchronous? Well, I do.

    I was going to go on, questioning why you imagine there would be any question of beaming during a new moon vs a lunar eclipse. But whatever conception of orbital mechanics you're working with I can't even make enough sense of it to mock.
  • Re:In Space (Score:5, Insightful)

    by dyingtolive (1393037) <brad.arnett@notf ... g ['hir' in gap]> on Thursday June 25, 2009 @01:27PM (#28468691)
    First off, directed != broadcast. Doesn't matter? Fine. It doesn't have to. Second off, show me your 200MW bluetooth device. You must have quite some range on that. I'm not an environmentalist, and I like nuclear power (when handled responsibly). With regard to your question about why arguments from the position of ignorance are allowed, I will have to contend by saying that they worked pretty well for this guy [wikipedia.org] until everyone decided he must be forcefully outed and silenced. "Either get on the side of science or get away from a computer"? I draw an interesting parallel, if I don't say so myself. I don't hate science, I don't hate advancement, and I don't hate progress. I hate people who take a stance without considering all the possibilities and leap to conclusions without extensive testing. Do your cell phones and bluetooth earpieces cause cancer? Most studies say no, but after five seconds of google work, I found this [scientificamerican.com] and this [go.com]. Are those real or are they more people "just as stupid as someone arguing against evolution.."? I don't know. Obviously there are contridictory results, so someone has to be wrong. There is an awful lot of money invested in cell phones. Which one is the disinformation coming from? I can't tell because I don't know who to trust.
  • by DragonWriter (970822) on Thursday June 25, 2009 @01:43PM (#28468937)

    What will we do once we've filled up space with solar panels, huh?

    Given how much space there is, and how much matter there is (that is, enough to, at a reasonable density, fill up only a really teensy fraction of the space), it seems unlikely that we could "fill up space" with anything.

    And, really, until you've created a Dyson swarm or Dyson bubble, which should keep you occupied a long time, I don't see what your issue is here as far as what to do once you've built out to capacity with space-based solar power.

    Sarcasm aside, nuclear plants in space might not be such a bad idea if we can actually beam the energy to earth. Nuclear waste is no longer a problem, cooling is no longer a problem, not-in-my-backyard is no longer a problem

    Actually, all of thsoe are problems. Cooling in space is nontrivial (vacuum doesn't give you a medium to carry away heat, so you are restricted to radiating heat), you still have to do something with spent fuel, and -- since orbitting things have a history of deorbiting -- NIMBY concerns are still a problem, but just not a local problem, since you can't narrow down the area at risk of (unlikely, perhaps, but that doesn't stop NIMBY concerns) catastrophe in that event.

  • Re:Human Size Ants (Score:3, Insightful)

    by wagnerrp (1305589) on Thursday June 25, 2009 @02:50PM (#28470031)
    You're off by a considerable margin there. LEO launch costs are a couple thousand dollars per pound, with GEO launches about ten times that. The weight of a space based system can be considerably less than a ground based system. You don't need heavy mirrors or solar panels, and protective structures needed to hold their own weight, as well as hold up to high winds, storms, sand erosion, and other maintenance issues. You would stretch out very thin, high albedo Mylar fabric over a collapsing frame, with a couple strategically placed collectors. You could easily cover several thousand square meters (generating a couple MW) with something the weight of an average telecommunications satellite.

    You're going to run into a couple problems. The Mylar sheet will be subject to micrometeorite damage, and over time will have to be replaced. You would have to occasionally launch replacements, and design some robotic system capable of stretching the new fabric in place. Your thermal collectors will have to operate at very high temperatures, in order to be able to dump that amount of power through your radiators. You're probably looking at a liquid sodium pump like you see in compact reactors.

    In the end, you're looking at free power with relatively low maintenance costs, for a couple billion dollars up front. However with current energy costs, you're also looking at a decade or two before you hit black. Contrast this with a traditional solar power plant of that capacity that would cost maybe half a billion dollars.

    On the opposite side, the space based solar plant offers a number of advantages over the ground based one. In geostationary orbit, you provide power for most of the day, entering full shadow for only one hour at night. This makes it much more like a base load plant, rather than peak load. It is also much more consistent power, not having to worry about cloud cover. On a cloudy day, the transmitter could just be redirected towards another ground station. In addition, ground stations can be scattered much more locally, allowing reduced distribution costs.
  • Re:In Space (Score:5, Insightful)

    by oni (41625) on Thursday June 25, 2009 @03:27PM (#28470579) Homepage

    I hate people who take a stance without considering all the possibilities

    All the possibilities huh. There's a difference between rational consideration and the constant cynical sniping that is so common today. We can't suggest *anything* without people leaping over themselves to suggest a doomsday scenario associated with it. Those are the people (and you're in that group) that need to STFU. If there's a scientist or an engineer who says, "wait a minute" then I'll listen. Everyone else is just being attention whores.

    Someone proposes wind power. Response:whoa whoa whoa, you haven't considered all the possibilities! Low frequency noise from the blades could cause earthquakes!!

    Someone proposes creating an "internet" Response: whoa whoa whoa, you haven't considered all the possibilities! Haven't you read 1984??

    GPS. Response: whoa whoa whoa, you haven't considered all the possibilities! Those satelites contain nuclear clocks. NUCLEAR! If they crash, they'll explode and kill all life on earth!

    Electric cars. Response: whoa whoa whoa, batteries contain toxic chemicals!

    Millions of years ago in Africa: hey, let's get the fuck out of here and move North. Response: whoa whoa whoa, you haven't considered all the possibilities.

    All I'm saying is that I'm tired of people like you that think it's your duty to imagine some scary consequence. If there were a few of you, it wouldn't bother me, but you're legion. It pisses me off. Your attitude should be, let's try something new and keep our eyes and minds open to see how it works. Once we have at least one of these stations working, THEN we talk about what it's doing to the environment. If it's bad, we shut it down or work to fix it. Sitting back in your chair criticizing proposals by actual smart people just pisses me off - it's a bit like that scene in Cryptonomicon where the snooty academic says, "how many neighborhoods will be bulldoze to build this information superhighway." The guy thought he was being clever, but actually he was just making a fool of himself. He didn't understand the technology - he should STFU.

  • Re:In Space (Score:2, Insightful)

    by osu-neko (2604) on Thursday June 25, 2009 @04:07PM (#28471203)

    Please remind me, how many times have YOU subjected an ecosystem to increased concentrations of directed microwave emissions?

    Me personally? Probably only in the thousands of times.

    How many times has it been completely harmless to the inhabitants?

    100% of the time.

    Did you allow the test to continue through several generations to verify that there was no long term damage?

    Not me personally, but on the whole for everyone who's done this, yes.

    Where are you getting your research data from?

    Decades of field experience.

    That knife cuts both ways.

    Not in this case.

    Don't get me wrong, I think new tech is exciting and promising, and I love the idea of cheap plentiful energy. Pointing out the flaws in someone's beliefs is one thing, but the unnecessary snarkyness about it is uncalled for when there is no proof on your own end.

    You mean "if there was no proof". If you knew what you were talking about, you wouldn't say "when".

    Here, this is for you. [wikipedia.org]

    That very adequately explains your behavior here. Thanks.

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