Space-based solar power preview

NASA Suntower Space-based solar tower concept

NASA Suntower Space-based solar tower concept

I will start out with a look at space-based solar power, including both microwave and laser based beaming approaches as well as seeing if there’s some use that can be had for that power that doesn’t involve beaming it. This will probably lead into discussion concerning interstellar propulsion. Also, I will present why I think storage makes space based solar power unnecessary and probably non-competitive on Earth, at least for grid usage. I will also explain why I think launch costs are not the greatest barrier for space-based solar power.

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11 Responses to Space-based solar power preview

  1. Pete Zaitcev says:


  2. D. F. Linton says:

    I think this is a meta-blog entry

  3. gbaikie says:

    “”This will probably lead into discussion concerning interstellar propulsion. ”

    Why not interplanetary beaming?
    I think we should invest more is much bigger telescopes [Ie: 100+ meter space telescopes] before too much time and effort is spent on starships.

    “Also, I will present why I think storage makes space based solar power unnecessary and probably non-competitive on Earth, at least for grid usage. ”
    Best energy storage system I can think of is wind mills pumping water uphill.

    “I will also explain why I think launch costs are not the greatest barrier for space-based solar power.”

    I would say time is the greatest barrier.
    I think if NASA were to actually do exploration of space- finding resources in space.
    I think it will require about 50 years before space-based solar can be used by Earthlings [economically rather some stunt]. But space-based solar is currently used by hundreds of satellites and ISS, and within say 5 to 10 year we could dramatically increase space-based solar for uses in space. And the sooner we begin such exponential growth is space-based solar for use in space, the quickier we get to using
    space-based solar for Earthling living on Earth surface.
    A minor point is if we expand oceanic human activity, this could be related to a need for space-based solar. And it seems we are already headed in this direction- which can’t be said about NASA actually going in the direction of exploring space- yet.

  4. Converting terrestrial sources of electricity (nuclear and renewable) into carbon neutral methanol, gasoline, dimethyl ether, jet fuel, and hydrogen will be the key to finally ending the deposition of excess CO2 into the atmosphere.

    Most of the electricity for methanol production, IMO, will probably come from nuclear power plants floating far out to sea, shipping methanol by tankers (themselves fueled by methanol) to coastal cities for electricity production and for ground transportation fuel.

    Most nuclear power plants in the future will probably be fueled by uranium derived from seawater or terrestrial thorium using fissile plutonium from spent fuel.


  5. I should also note that the Moon has thorium deposits as rich as some of those on the surface of the Earth. In theory, future nuclear industries on the Moon could export lunar thorium that is safely enriched with about 1% uranium 233 (derived from spent fuel from lunar nuclear power plants).

    Reusable cargo shuttles, Dream Chaser, Dragon, Skylon, etc. could therefore return to Earth with a precious extraterrestrial commodity that could be easily further enriched for use in next generation power plants, providing at least 30 times as much power (after recycling) as once through uranium does today.

    Since Mars appears to be relatively deficient in uranium and thorium resources, future colonies on Mars may also be largely dependent on importing uranium enriched thorium from the Moon.


  6. Paul451 says:


  7. Robert Clark says:

    Use of solar concentrators to reduce weight might make space solar power economically feasible:

    Economical Space Solar Power Now Possible.

    However, as I mentioned before the price of ground-based solar power is dropping so rapidly that within a few decades most home-owners and businesses will have their own solar power systems installed and won’t need a central power installation of any kind anyway:

    Futurist Ray Kurzweil isn’t worried about climate change.
    By Lauren Feeney
    February 16, 2011

    You can call it the effects of the approaching “Singularity”: by the time this great technological advance is fully up and running of supplying all the country’s electrical power via space solar power, it will become obsolete because everybody will have their own attached solar power system.

    The defense department though has spoken of using space solar power to supply power to their far-flung military bases. In that case it might have a use if it could be done low cost.

    Bob Clark

  8. Centralized photovoltaic power plants are still a lot more expensive relative to other sources of power (wind, nuclear, gas, coal, hydroelectric) and home photovoltaics can be at least twice as expensive as centralized solar power production.

    The manufacturing of photovoltaic cells also produces at least 10,000 times as much toxic waste per kilowatt produced as nuclear power plants do. Of course, at least 90% of the spent fuel from nuclear power plants can actually be recycled to produce more carbon neutral electric power.


  9. Chris Stelter says:

    Marcel, your figures are out of date. Recently, a power purchase agreement was signed for First Solar’s 100 MW Playa Solar 2 project for just 3.87 cents per kWh, making solar in some places the cheapest form of power. Totally unsubsidized at below 6 cents per kWh, solar is cheaper than most of those forms of power (other than wind, which is around 4 cents per kWh unsubsidized in the cheapest parts of the country), even if you don’t count the full externalized costs of burning fossil fuels.

    And the advantage of residential solar power is that you can avoid the distribution costs. This will become a lot more relevant once it’s possible to buffer solar power cheaply and as energy costs in general become lower (and thus distribution being a greater proportion of overall costs). In some rural places, it’s already cheaper to pay for a solar+battery installation than to pay $20-30k for a grid installation, not even counting the price per kWh.

    These low costs are most relevant when penetration of renewable energy into the grid is low. That is rapidly changing. Once renewables penetration reaches a certain percent, say, 10% each for solar and wind (20% total), then the calculus changes and raw cost-per-kWh becomes proportionally less important than things like intermittancy, capacity factor, etc. The grid is pretty flexible and can take advantage of these low prices while renewables are a tiny portion, but once renewables become a significant portion, you start needing to be much cleverer in how you deploy the technology. It can all be dealt with, of course, but it’s no longer a simple cost-per-kWh calculation (something which renewables already compete favorably on).

  10. Think Solar says:


    This is really great idea. I think this will be helpful for all of us. Thanks for sharing this informative news . Everyone should use solar power and try to save energy.


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