Scientists Want to Beam Unlimited Clean Energy to Earth from Space

Wednesday, 30 September 2015 - 5:34PM
Wednesday, 30 September 2015 - 5:34PM
Scientists Want to Beam Unlimited Clean Energy to Earth from Space
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For many years, scientists and environmentalists have advocated for a new source of energy before the Earth enters a genuine energy crisis. Some researchers have proposed a method that would provide us with unlimited clean energy: using space solar panels to beam energy back to Earth.

Scientists Want to Beam Unlimited Clean Energy from Space

Solar panels have become an alternative energy source on Earth to some extent, but unfortunately, it doesn't provide a feasible replacement for fossil fuels. As a result of Earth's night/day cycle and atmosphere, we only have limited exposure to the sunlight needed to power solar panels. They wouldn't provide energy at night, or even when the sky is too cloudy, which would be a problem in the winter. But if the panels are placed 22,000 miles above the Earth, they could provide unlimited energy, as it would be placed above Earth's atmosphere and would have unobstructed access to the Sun.

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"If you put the solar panel in space, it's going to be illuminated 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 99% of the year," said Paul Jaffe, a spacecraft engineer at the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory.
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According to scientists, these space solar panels would provide 40% more power than the same cell on Earth. And since sunlight is a continuous, renewable resource, the "total amount of power that could be produced is effectively infinite," said Jaffe.

If this "stellar energy," as researchers call it, sounds too good to be true, that's because it is, at least for now. It's a perfect plan in every way, with the rather large exception of the cost. It would cost approximately $4,600 per kilogram by the most recent estimates, which would need to be reduced to $400 per kilogram in order to compete with other plans for renewable energy. 

Fortunately, there may be several ways to defray the costs, chief among them Elon Musk's plan for a reusable rocket. Tests for these rockets have had some explosive results so far, but SpaceX is confident that they are getting close to making reusable rockets a reality, and that could cut the costs of launches by up to 100 fold. 

Then, we would need to devise a way to deliver the energy to Earth efficiently. Jaffe asserts that we could achieve this goal using electromagnetic waves, specifically radio waves. While we don't generally use radio waves to transmit power, certain types are capable of carrying the power from the sun's photons. 

"People might not associate radio waves with carrying energy because they think of them for communications, like radio, TV, or cellphones. They don't think about them as carrying usable amounts of power," Jaffe said in a statement.

Right now, the cost is prohibitive, but Jaffe insists that if the government supported research into renewable resources, we have the means for an infinite amount of clean energy. Beaming energy down from space may sound like reverse Star Trek, but it may just solve the Earth's energy crisis in the foreseeable future. 

Via Business Insider.