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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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  • by neonprimetime ( 528653 ) on Tuesday September 01, 2009 @02:06PM (#29276123)
    ... of a recession in June? They must be high on life now ... spend spend away!
  • by Maury Markowitz ( 452832 ) on Tuesday September 01, 2009 @02:09PM (#29276193) Homepage

    To avoid repeating myself...

  • USA DOD and FEMA (Score:5, Interesting)

    by WindBourne ( 631190 ) on Tuesday September 01, 2009 @02:14PM (#29276267) Journal
    The DOD, as well as FEMA, should be pushing to have several built for the America. This would actually enable more private launches, but also give the DOD a means to bring energy into areas that they need. Transportation of fuel is EXPENSIVE. The ability to bring power into a hurricane hit area will enable quick power. More importantly, the ability to beam energy will have to be developed. That would enable many of our construction and open pit mining vehicles to move off diesel. Basically, that would help to drive new innovations.
  • by CorporateSuit ( 1319461 ) on Tuesday September 01, 2009 @02:26PM (#29276455)

    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.

    That seems to be the exact opposite problem of what we have in America. We thought we had way more money that we even thought we had. 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. It was the lack of money that caused the lack of spending, not the lack of things to buy.

  • Re:Hmm... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by oldspewey ( 1303305 ) on Tuesday September 01, 2009 @02:37PM (#29276633)
    Here's a random thought: If we were to detect (with sufficient warning) an incoming comet on collision course for Earth, could this thing be reoriented so the microwave beam begins to ablate material off the comet and change the trajectory?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday September 01, 2009 @02:56PM (#29276871)
    This is why it's important. A 1GW power plant in space will be the largest space construction project, dwarfing the size of the International Space Station. Furthermore, since the actual devices being sent into space are relatively simple in comparison to a space habitat, economies of scale kicks in quite quickly. So sure, the first 1GW installed may be pretty damned costly, but what about the second? Third? 10th? Not to mention the spill-over technologies in heavy lift rocket design, solar panel construction (this should be a huge boon to solar companies), robotics, etc. Hell, even after the service life of the solar panels have ended, it would still make a super attractive large structure in space to anchor stuff off of (antennas/relay satellites, refueling stations for future long distance missions, maybe even a new space station and living quarters), or just to refurbish and extend its life for possibly hundreds of years.
  • by Tanktalus ( 794810 ) on Tuesday September 01, 2009 @03:15PM (#29277063) Journal

    Because once you've done it once, doing it a second time ought to be much cheaper. And once you've worked out the kinks in a "small-scale" project, it's easier to ramp up to bigger projects in the future.

    Think of this as costing about $1,428.57 per home, plus about a $20.6B investment in future technologies that the whole world will benefit from, assuming it works.

  • by Tekfactory ( 937086 ) on Tuesday September 01, 2009 @03:19PM (#29277107) Homepage

    I was looking at a white paper for Laser based Solar, and they were using Infa-Red Diode Lasers with 50% efficiency to beam down to a concentrator that was focussed on a 20% efficient PV panel on Earth. I asked why they couldn't focus the concentrator on a 27% efficient Stirling Engine instead. I haven't seen an answer back yet.

  • by Maury Markowitz ( 452832 ) on Tuesday September 01, 2009 @03:49PM (#29277425) Homepage

    > Elon Musk testified before congress that they have plans to get costs down to $500 per pound.

    Yeah, so did a lot of people. Remember Orbital Sciences? IIRC they were saying $100/lb. Roton was what, $150/lb? Some of these guys said the same thing to Congress too. The Shuttle was going to $25. Hell, Rockwell was trying to get Congress to let him buy a Shuttle for tourist flights.

    Falcon 9 hasn't flown. It has not demonstrated safety, load capacity, turnaround times, manufacturing capability, payload handling, or basically anything. So yeah, it will be great if he can do it. But odds are that he can't, going by the historical record.

    Even if he does, then another factor comes into play, the cost of the cells themselves. I haven't seen any published numbers on the ZTJ's, but I'm guessing they're in the range of $500 or more a pop. That's another couple of billion there (I should add this to the article). Costs can fall with better production, sure, but given that no one seems to have actually ordered any from emcore or Spectralab (no press releases seems like a good sign), it seems unlikely that's happening any time soon.

    And who cares anyway? There's no way this thing can be built as fast as its going to be smashed to bits. Little tiny comsats are getting hit in GEO, a PSAT has no chance. And don't talk to me about laser brooms!


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

    by mckinleyn ( 1288586 ) on Tuesday September 01, 2009 @03:54PM (#29277477)
    Because in 2050, you version 2.0 will say
    "Hey, guys, if we continue at the current rate, sea levels will rise by about 11 centimeters in *2150*. Let's just work on the problem later".
  • by lgw ( 121541 ) on Tuesday September 01, 2009 @04:01PM (#29277533) Journal

    Perhaps they value the look of their current roofs?

    PG&E is trying to do the same thing in California, BTW, it itsn't so much a Janapese thing as an expensive real estate/NIMBY thing. The NIMBY problem is so bad here that, even with rolling blackouts in the summer, the only place PG&E can build a new power plant is in space. And even then no one will accept the small receiving station in their neighborhood. Man I wish I could move back to Texas.

  • by Grishnakh ( 216268 ) on Tuesday September 01, 2009 @04:01PM (#29277539)

    Rather than spend $71,000 per home to buy some spacetoy, they could just spend $10,000 per home and put the solar panels directly on the roof.

    Japan isn't exactly the sunniest place in the world, so solar panels on the rooftops aren't going to provide enough power.

    However, if they succeed in developing space-based power, not only can they provide power to themselves, they can build more stations and sell power to other countries too. That could be very profitable. All they have to do is make it cheaper than nuclear power, and lots of places would sign up. If they make it cheaper than coal, then Japan would control a large portion of worldwide energy.

    Meanwhile, what exactly is the USA investing in to secure its citizens a place in the future global economy? Real estate loans?

  • by NotBornYesterday ( 1093817 ) * on Tuesday September 01, 2009 @04:18PM (#29277709) Journal

    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.

    Yes, but not completely. Prolonged, artificially low interest rates meant that buying power was increased. This led to high demand, and higher prices. If I can afford $2000 / month mortgage, and the mortgage that $2k will buy at 7% is, say, $220,000 or so, but at 5% will cover a mortgage of $300,000 or so (forgive the approximate math, I'm not about to drag out a financial calculator), it's no wonder that prices floated higher than they rationally should have. Add to that the irrational behavior buyers indulged in such as bidding wars for properties, and you have a perfect storm of property value inflation.

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

    by Nadaka ( 224565 ) on Tuesday September 01, 2009 @04:19PM (#29277713)

    Nuclear power has those problems only because we throw out 99% of nuclear fuel before we use it combined with the fact that all our nuclear facilities are aging (because we stopped building nuclear power plants) and using 30 to 50 year old technology.

    A modern feeder/breeder reactor would be much cheaper and is more "green" than this (remember all that rocket fuel you have burn to launch the orbital platform and a feeder/breeder can use up the "nuclear waste" of obsolete reactors as fuel with minimal waste).

    There are only two advantages of the orbital solar/microwave plant.
    1: The NIMBY sheep won't be upset.
    2: You can use it as an orbital death ray.

  • by rbrander ( 73222 ) on Tuesday September 01, 2009 @04:25PM (#29277797) Homepage

    The wikipedia article is a little vague on the lost-in-transit question, noting only that you can beam it one mile at 80% efficiency.

    I found a paper on the subject the last time this came up on /. : [] ...that boiled down to just 45% transmission efficiency. Or, to get 1GW into the grid on Earth, you have to generate 2.2GW of electricity up in space. Some is lost converting to microwaves and is radiated away up there, some is lost in space before it gets to the atmosphere, some is lost in the atmosphere, some is lost in the reconversion to electricity from microwave. The last two losses come out as heat in the biosphere. A little under 1GW.

    And now for the important news: ALL electrical energy turns into heat except that which goes into making products like aluminum from aluminum ore...and even that turns back into heat in the very long run.

    More news: all electrical energy except hydro, anything that involves boiling water to turn turbines, runs at maybe 33% efficiency. You'd have to burn 3GW of uranium, or coal, or oil into heat to get out 1GW of electrical energy in any earth power plant.

    So, summary: to get 1GW of electricity by almost any means but hydro, you have to dump 2GW into the air or water, immediately, and the remaining 1GW goes into heat when it's used. This technology would dump less than 1GW into the environment immediately, and the other 1GW when it's used. Net SAVING of heat dump into the environment.

    And it doesn't matter. Larry Niven's warnings in Ringworld about the trillion Puppeteers "drowning in their own waste heat" to the contrary, waste heat is a tiny percentage of the global warming problem; almost all of it comes from trapping more normal solar heat in the biosphere.

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

    by ImprovOmega ( 744717 ) on Tuesday September 01, 2009 @05:42PM (#29278685)

    There aren't very many (or any that I know of) terrorist organizations that could hit a LEO object, and if they're talking geo-sync then you're really safe. I mean, governments have a hard time with that. Your only potential threat maybe would be North Korea (for LEO, geo-sync would be out of their range too). Terrorist groups thrive on cheap, easily deployed destructive devices. There's no concealing something capable of going 300+ miles straight up.

Things equal to nothing else are equal to each other.