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Power Technology

Japan Plans $21B Space Power Plant 550

Mike writes "Japan has announced plans to send a $21 billion solar power generator into space that will be capable of producing one gigawatt of energy, or enough to power 294,000 homes. The project recently received support from Mitsubishi Electric Corp. and IHI Corp, who are now teaming up in the race to develop new technology within four years that can beam electricity back to Earth without the use of cables. Japan hopes to test a small solar satellite decked out with solar panels by the year 2015."
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Japan Plans $21B Space Power Plant

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  • Re:seriously? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by cyberjock1980 ( 1131059 ) on Tuesday September 01, 2009 @02:13PM (#29276257)

    I could be mistaken, but isn't the cost of this power plant versus a nuclear power plant (which many people argue is the cheapest form of electricity to produce) over 3 times more? Additionally, due to problems with this technology being in its infancy there will undoubtedly be additional costs that were not taken into consideration.

    I'm sure everyone will talk about this new "green" for of energy and expect it to be cheap, but they would shit a brick if they found out the actual costs they will be paying for electricity generated in this fashion.

  • by nickdwaters ( 1452675 ) on Tuesday September 01, 2009 @02:13PM (#29276261)
    Recession means "lack" of spending behavior, not "lack" of money. Often spending on promising technologies has important spin-off applications which bolster the economy / people spend money.
  • Re:seriously? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by timeOday ( 582209 ) on Tuesday September 01, 2009 @02:14PM (#29276271)
    TFA, which is very short, says everything you just said. So I'm guessing the Japanese see this as a longer-term investment.
  • Re:seriously? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by afidel ( 530433 ) on Tuesday September 01, 2009 @02:17PM (#29276323)
    That's what I was thinking, but if maintenance is cheap enough it's not too bad. $70,000 per home supplied amortized over say a 50 year design life is $117/month which is on the low end of my monthly bill. Of course that ignores servicing debt and distribution so it's definitely more expensive then most current options but if you are a small island nation with lots of wealth spending 2x as much for electricity probably isn't a big deal compared to global warming wiping out half your landmass.
  • by afidel ( 530433 ) on Tuesday September 01, 2009 @02:23PM (#29276423)
    If you are a small island nation with a large population land tends to be very scarce.
  • Receiver at sea? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by JSBiff ( 87824 ) on Tuesday September 01, 2009 @02:24PM (#29276439) Journal

    Japan is an island nation. You could someone minimize the risk of injury or loss of (human) life by directing the beat to a receiver on some micro-island, or maybe a floating platform like an oil rig, then have cables run from the island/platform to mainland Japan. That way, if the satellite goes a *little* off target, it's not as likely to people (although it still might harm aquatic life, I suppose, though I bet the potential damage and the risks are less than the damage from an oil platform/pipe/ship accident).

  • by jayme0227 ( 1558821 ) on Tuesday September 01, 2009 @02:26PM (#29276473) Journal

    I may be wrong but I think the important thing to remember is that they are paying $21 billion for the development of this space power power plant. If history tells us anything about innovation it's that innovation is costly, but the rewards can be great. Once they get this off the ground, how much will the next one cost? And the one after that? That's the important issue.

  • by Nethemas the Great ( 909900 ) on Tuesday September 01, 2009 @02:30PM (#29276527)

    Why is it that people on /. who live and breath new technology always have such a hard time with new technology economics? Why is it so hard to understand that new technology R & D is obscenely expensive relative to the commoditized versions that eventually follow. If everything was left to visionless people who focused solely on short term economics we'd still be living in the technological dark ages with a miserable quality of life.

    Before one nay-says, consider the benefits to society should the technology under discussion becomes an inexpensive commoditization.

  • by benjamindees ( 441808 ) on Tuesday September 01, 2009 @02:31PM (#29276539) Homepage

    How is it that Keynesians continue to absolutely fail to understand basic cause and effect and the free market? "Lack of spending behavior" is neither the definition or cause of the recession. It is the result of the lack of productive return over the last several years due to terrible investments. Recession is defined as negative GDP growth, or lack of improvement in production, not lack of spending.

    In this case, it's a terrible sign that the Japanese are so fed up with investing in the US that they now see hurling money into space as a better alternative.

  • by east coast ( 590680 ) on Tuesday September 01, 2009 @02:37PM (#29276635)
    Do you know how much the technology rights will be worth if they get this thing working? 21 billion doubtlessly includes R&D. Their return will be fantastic if they get it right.
  • by blueg3 ( 192743 ) on Tuesday September 01, 2009 @02:37PM (#29276641)

    They don't live and breathe new technology -- they live and breathe commodity technology, and think of it as new because they have no familiarity with actual R&D.

  • Re:seriously? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Alphanos ( 596595 ) on Tuesday September 01, 2009 @02:42PM (#29276719)

    Unfortunately, nobody can win an election on the basis of "50 years from now my opponent's policies would cause half of our island to sink!". However, it's easy for someone to say "That guy wants to make you pay twice as much for electricity!". Cue outrage.

    True or not, the consequences of global warming are inconceivable to most people. I think we'll need to see some more directly disastrous results before people really base day-to-day decisions on such considerations.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday September 01, 2009 @02:47PM (#29276771)

    'the Japanese are so fed up with investing in the US that they now see hurling money into space as a better alternative.'


  • by iluvcapra ( 782887 ) on Tuesday September 01, 2009 @03:10PM (#29277029)

    In this case, it's a terrible sign that the Japanese are so fed up with investing in the US that they now see hurling money into space as a better alternative.

    Yeah but if it works, it'll generate income, there is a risk/reward here, unlike the Keynes "bury money in a mine" scenario.

    I could make a smartass remark here about how the US government decided to bury millions of dollars in cable underground in the 1960s, connecting universities and research institutions with an inefficient government boondoggle...

  • by maharg ( 182366 ) on Tuesday September 01, 2009 @03:19PM (#29277105) Homepage Journal

    this is an interesting point. How exactly would the energy ultimately be dissipated ? As heat loss to the environment.....

  • by SBrach ( 1073190 ) on Tuesday September 01, 2009 @03:21PM (#29277133)
    The Earth's surface area is 510,072,000 km^2. Aproximately half of that is illuminated by the Sun at any given time, so 255,036,000 km^2. This array is 4 km^2. Sure it will be in the sun almost all the time but do you real think that getting an extra .0000008% of energy we already receive from the Sun is going to make any appreciable difference? That is at 100% efficiency by the way.
  • by commodore64_love ( 1445365 ) on Tuesday September 01, 2009 @03:22PM (#29277137) Journal

    It's not that difficult:

    - We had a housing bubble where homes were overvalued at, say, $300,000 but their true value was only $200,000
    - When the market corrected itself, and these home prices dropped to their true value, it started a chain of events
    - Those businesses with stocks or mutual funds in these homes lost money, bankruptcies spread, and recession happened.

    The only good news is that, unlike the crash of 1929, our recession started in 2007 and was a gradual falling-off, so we didn't have a panic. Not the question becomes - what caused the housing bubble? The answer is too easily-available credit was extended to people who should have not received mortgage loans.

  • by Nethemas the Great ( 909900 ) on Tuesday September 01, 2009 @03:28PM (#29277207)

    Run the time line a little further. Who says we have to launch pre-fabbed units from earth? As for a market why I'd suspect all earth would find it handy not to have to rely on current land based technologies, particularly fossil fuels, nuclear and hydro. I suspect that beaming power to mobile ground platforms in remote locations and/or disaster areas would be incredibly handy. I also believe it would be quite useful for scientific outposts and colonies off-world. As I see it the better question to ask would be "who wouldn't want it?".

  • Re:seriously? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Tumbleweed ( 3706 ) * on Tuesday September 01, 2009 @03:29PM (#29277217)

    Where I live (Vancouver, Canada) my monthly bill is about $22. I use electric baseboard heaters, too!

    Yeah, but using hydro is cheating! :)

  • Re:seriously? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Tumbleweed ( 3706 ) * on Tuesday September 01, 2009 @03:36PM (#29277297)

    Wind is about $1B per gigawatt, and an installation is good for 150 years with generator replacements on average 35-50 years... It also creates thousands of jobs, is easy to repair, and is not a single point terorist threat target...

    Direct comparisons aren't as easy as you think. Wind also doesn't scale as easily - you're not taking transmission costs into account, or the massive siting problems. Many of the large wind farms in the Western Interconnect have had - or are having - lots of opposition from the locals who don't want large turbines 'spoiling' (personal opinion) their view, or making noise 24/7. When you put them in out of the way places (which is where the best wind is anyway), then you're generally putting them where there aren't already heavy duty transmission lines. Then when you also add in heavy transmission line costs, you also get to deal with rights of way and environmental impact studies for that entire transmission line route, etc, etc. Wind is not a baseload power source - it varies, which adds costs to how you hook it up to the grid. Orbiting solar will be 24/7/365/forever, plus you can put as many up there as you can afford to, and the cost of these things will come down as our cost-to-orbit drops in the future.

    You seem to think this *first* orbiting power station means *only* (hence your 'single point'). There's always gotta be a first. I'd plan on LOTS more of these if I were you.

    re: terrorist target

    Lots of terrorists targeting Japan? The Taliban has space capability now, too, eh?

    I'm not saying this project doesn't have its problems, but you need to put it into perspective.

  • Population (Score:5, Insightful)

    by AP31R0N ( 723649 ) on Tuesday September 01, 2009 @03:56PM (#29277497)

    What will Japan's power consumption be in 10 to 20 years? They're having so few kids the population should be plummeting soon.

    We don't need more power, Mr. Scotty. We need FEWER PEOPLE. Pollution would be less of a problem if there were fewer people creating it. Cutting emissions, conserving and finding cleaner sources of energy while all very good... won't mean shit if our growth is still horrifically out of control. With a smaller population we'd have more resources per person and less waste generated.

    Similarly, there are no food or water shortages... there ARE places of the world that that too many people for the available resources. If we have 1 gallon per person per day at a population of 100,000... we'd have 2 gallons per person per day if the population of 50,000.

    i'm not talking about killing off people or even letting them die. i'm talking about getting the population to something that is sustainable. The quantity of life is going to start seriously farking with our quality of life... and THEN with the quantity. If we don't get it under control we're going to have more wars, more droughts, more everything that sucks.

    "easier said than done"

    Really? No kidding! Can i have your autograph before you win the Nobel Prize for Pointing out the Obvious?

    "But that's mean"

    Mean is kids dying of starvation because their parents had too many kids. Mean will be wars over water.

  • Re:seriously? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Caue ( 909322 ) on Tuesday September 01, 2009 @03:58PM (#29277517)
    how much was spent researching, designing, testing and building the first nuclear power station? they are paying the R&D. americans forgot how to do that?
  • Re:seriously? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by w0mprat ( 1317953 ) on Tuesday September 01, 2009 @03:59PM (#29277519)
    Bare in mind nuclear is heavily subsidised, expensive to run, and with additional hidden costs that are not accounted for. Factor in environmental impact and you have a strong case for space based solar power.

    Oh and the cost of launching a given mass to space is falling, and will get much lower.
  • by vertinox ( 846076 ) on Tuesday September 01, 2009 @03:59PM (#29277523)

    When the magicians disappeared, all the make-believe money that was coursing through the veins of the economy dried up and caused the businesses who were relying on people spending that make-believe money to burn out and fail.

    Money and wealth are arbitrary values of measurement set by society, businesses, government, or between individuals as it is.

    If you are trapped on an desert island with a suitcase full of gold, it won't seem that valuable compared to your neighbors crate of canned foods, or the guy with the can opener.

    That said, the gap between utility and wealth often becomes over extended and bubbles will happen.

    Just because society thinks something is valuable often does not increase its utility and the lack of value sometimes does not actually decrease utility of the commodity.

    Although, if you have organizations like the IRS, world's largest prison system, and nuclear weapons you can make your money valuable by simple force of will.

    Think about that next time you pay taxes or buy gas.

  • by Darkness404 ( 1287218 ) on Tuesday September 01, 2009 @04:14PM (#29277653)

    Now that you're up to date, we have a new American President who is not beholden to special interests, especially energy interests, who has some vision for a clean energy future.

    When did Obama resign?

  • we have a new American President who is not beholden to special interest

    I guess that's why his much-trumpeted healthcare reform includes a provision for not letting the government (which would be the major buyer of drugs) negotiate lower drug prices? []. The only thing that changed was the color of the skin of the guy at the top. Underneath they're all the same slime.

  • by tverbeek ( 457094 ) on Tuesday September 01, 2009 @04:16PM (#29277683) Homepage
    All money is "make-believe money".
    I'm not a retrograde gold-standard-er, but I think it's importatnt to understand that "wealth" in the modern global economy exists only as an abstraction, and can vanish just by people losing faith in it.
  • by commodore64_love ( 1445365 ) on Tuesday September 01, 2009 @04:20PM (#29277725) Journal

    >>>we have a new American President who is not beholden to special interests,

    Except that he's already met with the insurance CEOs and promised not to negotiate pricecuts during the next 10 years. In exchange the companies are supposed to endorse his Uncle Sam healthcare. (And why wouldn't they if they are guaranteed to be paid big bucks by the government, and without hassle.)

    Oh yeah - I almost forget RIAA. Last I heard Obama's assigned 4 of their lawyers to his administrative posts... lawyers who have sent-out letters to citizens which basically said: Send us $5000 or else get sued millions.

    Obama's just as smarmy as our last president.

  • by Minwee ( 522556 ) <> on Tuesday September 01, 2009 @04:23PM (#29277759) Homepage

    That's shocking. It's almost as if he's in charge of _exactly the same country_ as the last guy was.

    Don't they have a tradition of launching all three hundred million people into the sun every four years so they can get a clean start on things?

  • by GameboyRMH ( 1153867 ) <gameboyrmh@gmai l . c om> on Tuesday September 01, 2009 @04:25PM (#29277781) Journal

    we have a new American President who is not beholden to special interests, especially energy interests,

    Maybe not energy interests, but if he wasn't on the take from media interests he would have cut the US out of ACTA [] negotiations by now, especially since he was talking all about transparency and making himself out to be a technophile during his campaign (so much for that). [] He's also made a habit of appointing RIAA lawyers to his administration. []

  • by SETIGuy ( 33768 ) on Tuesday September 01, 2009 @04:52PM (#29278077) Homepage

    It was the lack of money that caused the lack of spending, not the lack of things to buy.

    The lack of money is just as imaginary as the abundance of money that preceded it.

    No. I don't know if I'm being funny or not. Why do you ask?

  • Re:seriously? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by falconwolf ( 725481 ) <falconsoaring_20 ... minus cat> on Tuesday September 01, 2009 @06:13PM (#29278991)

    If only Japan could somehow magically create more open, unfarmable, and uninhabited land where the turbines could be placed without taking away already scarce farm land or slowly deafen anyone within a kilometer!

    Unlike nuclear power land for wind turbines can be used for food farming as well. Here in Minnesota many corn farmers site wind turbines on their farms. Platforms for towers don't take much space. And wind turbines aren't as loud as some make them out to be. All those who say they take too much land or are too loud are doing is spreading FUD and lies. And saying they kill a of birds is also FUD. Buildings [], cars, and cats [] kill many birds []. If you're worries about birds being killed by wind turbines then complain about birds being killed at airports []. Here is a list of "9 Human Activities That Threaten Birds" [].


  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday September 01, 2009 @06:32PM (#29279189)

    These frequencies must be specifically choosen to cut through all the water in the atmosphere (along with anything else). Since human bodies are mostly water

    Human bodies are mostly water, not water vapor. While some microwave energy will bounce off your body, virtual none of it will pass through you. If microwaves could pass through water, they'd be using them for communication with subs instead of ELF.

  • by Martin Hellman ( 1254284 ) on Wednesday September 02, 2009 @12:02AM (#29281489)
    The article says "Transportation of the solar panels into space is too expensive at the moment to be commercially viable, so Japan has to figure out a way to lower costs," so the transportation costs cannot be included in the stated $21B figure, making it seem of little value. At first I was really impressed since $21 a watt is within striking distance of being economically competitive. (Fossil fuel powered plants cost in the vicinity of $5 per watt to build PLUS fuel costs. And any new technology tends to come down in price with experience.) Another possible problem: The article says the satellite "produces" one gigawatt, which may not be the same as receiving one gigawatt on the ground. Anyone know the answer to that question?
  • by 4D6963 ( 933028 ) on Wednesday September 02, 2009 @01:59AM (#29281963)

    What, that's the best you got? The first one is called politics, that's how things actually work. Inspiring ideals-filled speeches are great for getting the public opinion behind you, but when it comes to getting the job done, you have to get your hands dirty and compromise left and right to even get a faint shadow of what you promised to happen. If you compromise with a powerful lobby behind closed doors then you won't have to compromise in the bills you want to pass to keep them happy.

    As for the RIAA lawyers, allow me to dismiss it as general lawyer-bashing. Lawyers do what they have to to win for whoever pays them. They were picked because they were good lawyers. It doesn't matter what they did before (as long as it was legal), lawyers are the military of the justice system, they'll shower your ass with legal napalm and white phosphorous to accomplish their mission.

  • Bush was a huge asshat who increased the size of government and spent like a drunken sailor. Screw him. But if you are pissed at Bush for his poor policies, how can you turn around and embrace Obama who has already outspent Bush in just 6 months?

    IIRC, Bush happened to spend money on two needless wars, unless you think revenge was a fair motive. Obama on the other hand got a recession to take care of just when he entered office. You think those two events can be compared directly and fairly when it comes to government spending?

  • by sonicmerlin ( 1505111 ) on Wednesday September 02, 2009 @08:56AM (#29284059)

    Actually the Great Depression occurred in large part because in the 1920s the Secretary of the Treasury was the de facto head of the Frederal Reserve. As such he, along with the administrations in the 1920s, were interested in a loose money policy which set up the great fall in 1929. The Bank Act of 1935 gave the fed its own Chairman and a revised charter. It also neutered the powers of the branches to just day-to-day operations.

    I think the history of recessions in the 20th century speaks for itself. Most recently we were on the brink of global financial collapse, but economic indicators have signaled we've already pulled out of the recession. That's less than a year long.

    The Fed did in fact contribute to the latest recession, but it wasn't about money supply. It was about keeping the interest rates incredibly low, a problem compounded by the Republican Administration's refusal to enact stricter regulation. This is a GREAT article explaining the details: []

    I seriously cannot understand your position. Nearly every developed country in the world has a central bank. It's absolutely vital to have a body independent from the shenanigans and partisan politics that take place in Congress. Monetary policy and its effects are well understood and much more predictable than the effects of fiscal policy.

    If not the Federal Reserve then who do you want in charge of monetary policy?

    There are some other things I have to take issue with. First of all, the Fed doesn't print money. That's the National Treasury's job. The Federal Reserve simply buys government bonds for a small price, or sells them, creating an increase or decrease in interest rates.

    Furthermore, your accusation's of the Fed's true purpose and corruption are amusing. The Office of Inspector General is charged with auditing The Federal Reserve, and Congress can directly force The Federal Reserve to release its records after 5 years if the Fed tries to withhold them.

    In addition, I will quote another website: "The general impression one gets is that the Federal Reserve System is owned by international bankers who get all the Federal Reserve income. This is just not true.

    The Federal Reserve System is headed by the Board of Governors which is a government agency (look it up:⦠) There is no structure for private ownership at this level. The Governors are appointed by the president and confirmed by congress and are forbid my law from having a financial stake in any bank. All the B-of-G employees are considered government employees.

    The Fed branches, however, can be considered highly regulated member-owned corporations. (look it up: []⦠) By law, all member banks must buy shares into their local branch. Only domestic banks can be members. They vote for 6 of their 9 board members (the other 3 are appointed by the BofG). Each bank gets one vote so J.P. Morgan has as many votes as the First National Bank of Pocatella, ID.

    For sheer political influence, large banks, corporations, and foreign interests are better off lobbying congress."

    As for the national debt, if you take a look at this chart: [] it's self-evident when the greatest increases of our national debt were incurred. Generally during the Reagen and Bush I administration, as well as the Bush II administration.

    Keep in mind our approximation of the federal deficit today adds the cost of the war, which Bush Jr. kept "off the books".

    I think it's also self-evident that the Democratic Clinton administration was the first one to experience a surplus since '69.

    Really, any argument for the fiscal sanity of Republicans can be easily ignored.

  • by sonicmerlin ( 1505111 ) on Thursday September 03, 2009 @03:06AM (#29296401)

    The history of the federal reserve demonstrates that a group of bankers and academics is no better at picking the right interest rate than the soviet planners were at setting industrial output quotas and prices.

    That's ridiculous. We had a fixed gold standard for 34 years, from 1880 to 1914, and we still had massive recessions leading to nationwide panic. I already outlined in detail how these successive and frequent recessions eventually led to the creation of the Federal Reserve in the first place.

    A fiat currency gives the government the ability to tightly control the money supply, which allows them to dampen the peaks and troughs of the natural capitalist business cycle. I already provided you with a chart demonstrating how recessions have decreased in overall length and size since the institution of fiat currency.

    Ironically the main reason the Fed moved to fiat currency in the first place was to finance WWI. We simply ran out of gold and silver. See any similarities between then and now?

    Your concern over the excessive printing of money and devaluation of the currency is valid, but that can easily be solved by ensuring the government is responsible with its spending. That means no unfunded, unnecessary wars in far off locations that aren't even put on the books as part of the "national debt" because the Republican President thinks he's entitled to his personal war agenda.

    At least the first Bush realized he couldn't continue funding his massive government programs without raising taxes, despite promising everyone he wouldn't.

    Again, I would like to point out that Clinton was the first president to usher in a budget surplus since 1969. Most of our current national debt has been amassed under Republican administrations.

    I would also like to point out that the presence of fiat currency allowed us to avert the global financial collapse we were on the brink of in September and October of last year. You can say all you want about "tort", but just the extra money received by municipal and state governments alone through the stimulus package has helped them avoid laying off thousands of employees.

    It will be years before a true, complete assessment of the effectiveness of the stimulus packages will become available, but a history of success is why the entire frickin' world, including China, agreed to implement a form of Keynesian economics to avoid a global depression. If you read through the extensive New Yorker article I pointed you towards, you would also be aware even Bush II agreed that pragmatism was more important than his personal deregulatory ideology, and thus was the reason he passed the first round of TARP.

Variables don't; constants aren't.