Thursday, April 16, 2009

Back to 1968 and Orbital Solar Power

Back in 1968 Peter Glaser detailed an ambitious plan for energy independence, using solar power from orbiting photovoltaic arrays. The technology for large-scale solar panel manufacture wasn't ready for anthing that ambitious back then, although heavy space launch infrastructure was in much better shape. Regardless, the idea is being resurrected by a startup company:
Now Solaren Corporation, a startup based in Manhattan Beach, CA, is trying to get the idea off the ground. It's working with the California utility Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E), which intends to enter into a power-purchase agreement with the company. If the agreement is approved by regulators, starting in 2016, the utility will purchase 200 megawatts of power from Solaren at an undisclosed price--that is, if the startup can get a system into space and working by then. The company has already selected a site in California for the receiving station; it hasn't said exactly where, but it will be close to a PG&E substation and won't require long-distance transmission lines.

Solaren hasn't released many details about the system. CEO Gary Spirnak says that it's conceptually the same as communications satellite technology: it uses solar panels to generate electricity, which gets sent to Earth in the form of radio waves, which are received by antennas on Earth. In a Q & A published by PG&E, he said that the design is "a significant departure from past efforts," so it will be economically feasible. The first system will reportedly be able to generate 1,000 megawatts--about the size of many conventional power plants. The company will need to raise billions of dollars to construct the plant. Right now, it only has 10 employees. _TechReview
More information at Next Big Future, and at New Energy and Fuel



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