Sep 4, 2009

Science Scene - Out Of This World :o)

Another entry brought to you courtesy of Scientific American. As an engineer, can I say that I love this site, and if not, PI in your face :o)

The Japanese government is prepared to spend some 2 trillion yen on a one-gigawatt orbiting solar power station—and this week Mitsubishi and other Japanese companies have signed on to boost the effort.

Boasting some four kilometers of solar panels—maybe of the super efficient Spectrolab variety but more likely domestically sourced from Mitsubishi or Sharp—the space solar power station would orbit some 36,000 kilometers above Earth and transmit power via microwave or laser beam.The benefit? Constant solar energy production as the space-based power plant never passes out of sunlight. The downsides? Only enough power for roughly 300,000 Japanese homes at a price tag of $21 billion, according to Japan's science ministry (about 127 million people live in Japan in some 47 million households).

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) aims to have a system in space by 2030. The first step will be launching a test satellite that will gather solar power and beam it back to Earth, probably in 2015. Already, ground tests show that some solar power (180 watts) can be beamed successfully.

In the U.S., where space solar has been on the drawing board since at least the 1960s, California's Pacific Gas & Electric [Disclaimer, I used to work for PG&E] has pledged to buy power from a planned 200-megawatt space solar station put together by Solaren that is still being developed.

But the U.S. government has mixed feelings about space solar. Despite some $80 million spent over decades by NASA, the alternative energy source is no closer to fruition using public funds. And other government agency estimates put the price tag for space solar at $1 billion per megawatt—making this the most expensive power source identified to date in any solar system.

To save you from doing all the math and junk, at my utility, we use $1000/KW as a new generation number, which is $1/W. So, $1B per Megawatt (ten to the sixth) is $1000/W. Yes folks, that means this solution is 1000 times more expensive than other sources of energy. While coming up with alternatives to greenhouse gas producing power sources is getting more difficult, earth based solutions such as nuclear and carbon sequestration, are anticipated to be in the $2,500 - $3,500 per KW range. This is still much cheaper than mirrors in space.


  1. Okay, this is a LITTLE(a lot) off topic, but it will cost me a couple of grand extra to have a 95% Green new heating system & I was told "many don't go for that." YIKES. I think Green should be the only option. ~Mary

  2. No pi in my face! Love SciAm!

    be well...

  3. It's an ingenious solution...let's hope they can bring the price down at some point.

  4. Hi Ken,
    I'm all for technological advancement but the price tag on this one just doesn't seem to justify the investment.

  5. One of the big problems with a space based solution is beaming the power back to earth. With currently available technology, the loss in transmission is astronomical. It is unfortunate that Nuclear has such a bad public image, because it is a perfectly viable solution that is available now.


Tell Me What You Think, Don't Make me go Rogue on you :o)