There is a Way to make Renewables Viable

NASA Suntower concept
NASA Suntower concept. Public Domain,

Guest essay by Eric Worrall

Renewables in their current form are a nonsense solution to the world’s energy needs. However, there is a combination of technologies which could make solar power a significant, reliable contributor to the World’s energy needs. But I doubt any green will rush to embrace it.

How do we make solar power reliable? The problems which make solar power unreliable are mainly related to weather – clouds, rain, snow, winter, poor air quality, anything which interrupts the flow of light reaching the collector.

The solution is to put the solar panels beyond the reach of all these problems – by putting them into orbit. Launching solar panels into orbit might sound far fetched, but it is being seriously considered by a number of national space programmes.

Space-based solar power (SBSP) is the concept of collecting solar power in space (using an “SPS”, that is, a “solar-power satellite” or a “satellite power system”) for use on Earth. It has been in research since the early 1970s.

SBSP would differ from current solar collection methods in that the means used to collect energy would reside on an orbiting satellite instead of on Earth’s surface. Some projected benefits of such a system are a higher collection rate and a longer collection period due to the lack of a diffusing atmosphere and night time in space.

Part of the solar energy (55–60%) is lost on its way through the atmosphere by the effects of reflection and absorption. Space-based solar power systems convert sunlight to microwaves outside the atmosphere, avoiding these losses, and the downtime (and cosine losses, for fixed flat-plate collectors) due to the Earth’s rotation.

Besides the cost of implementing such a system, SBSP also introduces several new hurdles, primarily the problem of transmitting energy from orbit to Earth’s surface for use. Since wires extending from Earth’s surface to an orbiting satellite are neither practical nor feasible with current technology, SBSP designs generally include the use of some manner of wireless power transmission. The collecting satellite would convert solar energy into electrical energy on board, powering a microwave transmitter or laser emitter, and focus its beam toward a collector (rectenna) on Earth’s surface. Radiation and micrometeoroid damage could also become concerns for SBSP.

SBSP is considered a form of sustainable or green energy, renewable energy, and is occasionally considered among climate engineering proposals. It is attractive to those seeking large-scale solutions to anthropogenic climate change or fossil fuel depletion (such as peak oil).

SBSP is being actively pursued by the Japan and China. In 2008 Japan passed its Basic Space Law which established Space Solar Power as a national goal and JAXA has a roadmap to commercial SBSP. In 2015 the China Academy for Space Technology (CAST) briefed their roadmap at the International Space Development Conference (ISDC) where they showcased their road map to a 1 GW commercial system in 2050 and unveiled a video and description of their design. A proposal for the United States to lead in Space Solar Power has recently received high level attention after it won the D3 (Diplomacy, Development, Defense) competition sponsored by the Secretary of Defense, Secretary of State, and USAID Director. As of May 21, 2015, there was an on and a second active petition at Whitehouse website.

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The obstacle to space based solar power is obviously the launch cost. If you are paying thousands of dollars per kilogram for payload delivered into Earth orbit, launching thousands of tons of solar collector equipment is a sure route to a very expensive solar space station.

So how do we bring down the launch cost? There are a number of technologies on the drawing board, but lets stick with known technology, preferably a technology which has already been tested to some extent.

There is one cheap space launch technology which stands out – simple design, high thrust, high impulse, based on well understood engineering principles, capable of economically launching thousands, even millions of tons into any orbit you want, using a single stage launch vehicle. The only problem is the fallout.

Project Orion was a study of a spacecraft intended to be directly propelled by a series of explosions of atomic bombs behind the craft (nuclear pulse propulsion). Early versions of this vehicle were proposed to take off from the ground with significant associated nuclear fallout; later versions were presented for use only in space.

The idea of rocket propulsion by combustion of explosive substance was first proposed by Russian explosives expert Nikolai Kibalchich in 1881, and in 1891 similar ideas were developed independently by German engineer Hermann Ganswindt. General proposals of nuclear propulsion were first made by Stanislaw Ulam in 1946, and preliminary calculations were made by F. Reines and Ulam in a Los Alamos memorandum dated 1947. The actual project, initiated in 1958, was led by Ted Taylor at General Atomics and physicist Freeman Dyson, who at Taylor’s request took a year away from the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton to work on the project.

The Orion concept offered high thrust and high specific impulse, or propellant efficiency, at the same time. The unprecedented extreme power requirements for doing so would be met by nuclear explosions, of such power relative to the vehicle’s mass as to be survived only by using external detonations without attempting to contain them in internal structures. As a qualitative comparison, traditional chemical rockets—such as the Saturn V that took the Apollo program to the Moon—produce high thrust with low specific impulse, whereas electric ion engines produce a small amount of thrust very efficiently. Orion would have offered performance greater than the most advanced conventional or nuclear rocket engines then under consideration. Supporters of Project Orion felt that it had potential for cheap interplanetary travel, but it lost political approval over concerns with fallout from its propulsion.

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I doubt greens are going to rush to embrace a renewables solution which involves the release of atmospheric nuclear fallout, even if that fallout could be constrained to safe levels. But if the future viability of the planet was really at stake, and if nuclear power was unacceptable for whatever reason, solar power satellites could realistically and reliably deliver the energy our civilisation needs, with minimal carbon emissions, other than whatever was emitted during the construction of the components.

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May 31, 2016 10:07 pm

Vacuum tube electromagnetic gun embedded in Mt Kilamanjaro is the ticket @elonmusk.

Reply to  Scute
May 31, 2016 10:29 pm

I guess it will be powered by Elon Musk batteries

Mark - Helsinki
Reply to  Alex
May 31, 2016 11:11 pm

Ba Dum Tiss

Brian R
Reply to  Alex
June 2, 2016 1:09 pm

More like Elon Musk hot air.

Reply to  Scute
June 1, 2016 6:29 am

Rail guns are becoming practical weapons. Scaling them up to launch materials into space seems like a pretty straightforward engineering problem.
More to the point, wind in good locations is practical and cost effective today without subsidies. Solar is getting close. Provided you only want to use them for 20-30% of energy supply. Much above that and you need massive inter-regional transmission facilities like the European Supergrid concept. People talk about batteries, but transmission is about 10x more cost effective for the same services.
The failure of renewables in Europe is because of excessive government intervention. Feed in Tariffs are a form of inefficient central management. The US uses a competitive bidding process, so our costs are much lower. If we used the model of having the Federal utilities (BPA, TVA, WAPA, SRP) finance and own the wind and solar project like they do most of the hydro projects in the country, they could achieve wind costs in the low $20s/MWh and solar in the low $40s/MWh today without subsidies. This is in line with wholesale energy costs. These technologies are capital intensive and these entities have very low borrowing costs, so they’re a good fit.
Even more to the point, in what world would nuclear bomb powered rockets be more acceptable than nuclear power plants?
The only cost effectively decarbonized electricity network that doesn’t rely on hydro is in France. Their energy costs are low (for Europe) and reliability is high. Waste isn’t a real issue. Reprocessing technology has existed for decades. It is poo-pooed today because it is more expensive than getting new uranium from the ground. Safety isn’t a real issue. Nuclear is far safer than any other energy technology (including solar – installers fall off roofs). Cost isn’t a real issue. US nuclear costs about 3x as much as South Korean nuclear because of our regulatory structure, not for any real technical reason.
The only real issues are perception and over-regulation – and they have solutions. Identify nuclear development zones where the plants will be safe and welcome by the locals, build lots of plants in those areas. Add transmission as necessary. Wyoming would be happy to host a few dozen reactors for California. West Virginia is begging for jobs and could provide nuclear energy to most of the East Coast. Reform the regulatory model to copy the successes of other nations.

Reply to  vboring
June 1, 2016 10:38 am

Read “The Moon is a Harsh Mistress,” by Robert Heinlein.

Reply to  vboring
June 1, 2016 11:09 am

You are far more optimistic than I about the long term viability of renewables, but I will agree with your solution. More research and long term development are the key to any future.

Tsk Tsk
Reply to  vboring
June 1, 2016 4:21 pm

You’ve obviously never done the calculations for a rail or light gas gun launch system. Here’s a hint: it takes many, many kilometers of gun to launch into an elliptical orbit assuming you’re not just launching bulk goods which can withstands 10s to 100s of g’s.
Wind is not cost effective even in good locations today without subsidies. Wind still relies on the implicit subsidy of feed in tariffs and the PTC of $0.02/kWh. And none of this addresses the cost of backup power to cover their intermittency. The problem with renewables is not the regulation. Regulation and subsidies are the only things keeping them afloat!
And if you think utilities can scale up the application of renewables just because they’re capital intensive-they’re also quite labor intensive-you need to explain why solar city has been such a financial disaster.

Ian H
Reply to  vboring
June 1, 2016 4:36 pm

In my opinion the best place to put nuclear power stations is under the ocean. That is because the ocean itself protects them from many dangers such as earthquake, aircraft collisions and tsunami (at the bottom of the ocean the effects of a tsunami are minimal). And also because if there is a problem such structures will fail safe. If Fukushima had been a submerged structure then opening the doors and flooding the thing would have immediately ended the problem with minimal contamination. Fukushima turned into the mess it became mostly because they couldn’t get enough water in there fast enough to stop the reaction and cool it down. As for disposal, use lifting buoys to tow the entire structure to the deepest ocean trench and drop it there. Find a subduction zone if possible,Ten miles down buried in ocean muck is a pretty safe place for the long term disposal of radioactive material.

Reply to  vboring
June 2, 2016 5:08 am

vboring June 1, 2016 at 6:29 am: “Rail guns are becoming practical weapons.”
I read the other day that the U.S. military has a new railgun they claim has a 135 mile range. They claim it is “unstoppable”.
China is desperately trying to hack into the developer’s site to steal the technology. My question: Why do these U.S. guys need to connect their databases to the internet? Are they incapable of developing without doing this?

Reply to  vboring
June 3, 2016 11:11 pm

“Rail guns are becoming practical weapons.”
Railguns are no closer to being practical than they were 100 years ago. They got one to work in a lab, whoopiee. They were making them work in labs 100 years ago. You can find articles about them and coilguns in Popular Mechanics in the 1920s and 30s.
The problems now are the same as back then. No material exists to build the rails from that can withstand the forces of firing for any length of time. You need something as conductive as copper with the melting point of tungsten that is several times the strength of steel. Anything else is going to be scrap metal within a few shots if you operate it at the power levels necessary for a weapon, as happens with the current lab toy the Navy has.
The articles you are seeing are nothing more than sales brochures, trying to hype up the technology to get yet more funding from congress so it can become the next F-35 fiasco.
There are far more fruitful areas of research. Light-gas guns have potential, but conventional gun technology has a lot to offer as well. The 16″ guns of the Iowa class were only 50 calibers long. In small arms terms, that is a 30 caliber rifle that only has a 15″ barrel. High velocity small arm calibers like the 22-250 often have a barrel that is 100 calibers in length.
A 100 caliber 16″ smoothbore that uses fin stabilized sabot rounds of 8-12″ in diameter that are either rocket assist or base bleed would easily get 100+ miles in range. Granted you couldn’t (easily) mount such a gun in a turret, but would probably have to put it in a ship facing forward with only a limited traverse and aim by steering the ship. Not a problem when what you are shooting at is 100 miles away.
The 16″ guns of an Iowa could fire 2 shots a minute. Something like I outlined above could probably be loaded in a similar amount of time, but even if we cut the rate of fire in half, to one shot a minute, it is still a significant amount of firepower for significantly cheaper than missiles. Probably fit two guns side by side on a cruiser sized ship and build a dozen or so of them. Then you can have as many or as few as you want in one place for fire support.
Of course all that uses largely proven technology that wouldn’t cost a ton to develop, o nobody is interested.

Reply to  Scute
June 1, 2016 10:07 am

Stop being so Terra-centric.
Launching all the mass needed to build solar power satellites (SPS) from Earth to orbit can not part of the solution.
So far, even the space agencies that have considered this solution to the generation of electricity just don’t get it.
Heavy industry and power generation need to be moved off of the earth into orbit. We need to mine the moon and the near earth asteroids for raw materials and we need to process those raw materials in orbit. In 20 years not an ounce of material should come from ground based factories.
This is a 40+ year old idea. We’ve been thinking about it for a very long time. Every objection you can think of has been raised and dealt with in detail before many of you were born.
The power density of the microwave transmission is to low to fry anyone or anything.
(SPS) can’t be used as an energy weapon.
Every piece of technology needed to do it has been developed and is being tested right now.
It will orbit at 22,000 miles above the equator in geosync orbit, the same orbit as comsats and weather sats do now.
Taking everything up from earth is OK to begin with, but in the long term we need to mine the moon and asteroids for the raw materials to build them.
“That guy” in the 70s was Gerard K. O’Neill, a Princeton physicist who asked his students where a technologically advanced civilization should be based? Their answer was “in high earth orbit. Read his books to understand his vision.
Orion just isn’t going to happen. It’s not a part of this.
Go visit SSI.ORG for more.

Reply to  L5Rick
June 1, 2016 11:12 am

As a long term solution, maybe, but then you need the initial forge and drilling operation to get up there. You’ve not changed the mission, just the end goal.

george e. smith
Reply to  L5Rick
June 1, 2016 1:26 pm

An average French Nuke is a 1GW affair; that is Electricity on the grid peak power I presume.
To do that with present earth based hi tech silicon single crystal solar cells at say 25% AM1.5 solar to DC electric; shall we say 20% AM1.5 solar to Grid AC electric, would require 4 million square meters of solar cells, oriented normal to the sun vector.
That’s actually a 2km square array.
Well you would have to break that up into a more practical array size to be fully steerable over the daily sun movement. I can’t imagine that they would want to be bigger than say 20 m square of 400 square meters per module, so that’s only 10,000 units; just a fraction of the Ivanpah / Tonopah mirror count, but I don’t think those mirrors are quite that large, so I am thinking quite large steerable units.
But like those desert KFC plants, you need to space the steerable arrays far enough apart to not shadow each other at any time during the working day.
So the committed land area may beat least five times that size, and more likely ten times.
Seems like it would need to be as big or bigger than I / T to replace one French Nuke
Well you wouldn’t have 24 hour on time, but that is not too big a deal.
Personally I’m of the opinion that it is preferable to NOT use steerable modules. Too costly and too complex.
A flat array basically horizontal to the ground, can use far less land area than steerable arrays, with some obliquity penalty thrown in.
Even so it takes a lot of solar panels to replace a single nuke, and that is just for the working period.
Now I’m not presenting this as an ideal solar PV farm. I think for ground based arrays, the use of non-imaging optics trough stationary arrays is the better approach; rather than steerable.
The sun moves +/- 23.5 degrees in zenith angle over the year, and that can be covered, with a stationary trough and a single axis magnification of 2.50 .
So the cells would be seeing about 2.5 kW per square meter at local noon.
With the cells stationary, it would be fairly simple to run cooling water through a heat sink mounting, to keep the Temperature down. I don’t think you need active cooling (refrigeration).
Well I don’t want to do a complete design right here, I’ve gone through it often enough; just never had the incentive to build my own.
I think space collection of solar energy destined for earth is just a fairy tale. And I’m not even thinking of the energy to get all the hardware up there. And the accelerated decay of the cells is just one of the space problems.

Reply to  L5Rick
June 1, 2016 6:43 pm

Hi L5Rick. Love your handle.
I always liked the “inflatable balloon” SPS design. You launch a one-mile-diameter balloon, deflated, and covered on the outside with flexible solar cells, into orbit, and then inflate it once it is in orbit. I believe it would take about 40 pounds of helium to inflate the structure.
You don’t have any pointing issues with a sphere. Half of it will always be in sunlight.
As for a heavy-lift system, all you need to do is revive the Space Shuttle launch system or something similar. The Space Shuttle launch system could put over 100 tons of cargo in low-Earth orbit, if you substituted a cargo-carrier for the space shuttle on the launch stack.
And with the advancements made lately, they could make the Space Shuttle Launch system, or something similar, even more economical by using reusable boosters.
If you are interested in space development, the Space Studies Institute promoted by L5Rick in his post, is a very good place to go.

Paul of Alexandria
Reply to  L5Rick
June 1, 2016 8:42 pm

Concur, except for demonstration projects. Using lunar materials is the way to go.
BTW, folks, in space design “large” (and SPS’s are VERY large) doesn’t mean heavy. The structure can be relatively flimsy by terrestrial standards.
The technology behind the SPS has been well proven and demonstrated several times. We are now getting to the point where they can be cost efficient.

Roger Lancaster
Reply to  L5Rick
June 2, 2016 8:22 am

The standard for microwave power transmission is 23 mW per sq cm ==> 230 W per sq M at beam center, tapering off toward the edges to 1 mW per sq cm.
So even with no tapering (full power over the whole collector), a 1 terrawatt beam takes 4,347,826,087 sq M or 4,337 sq KM (bigger than the land area of Rhode Island).

george e. smith
Reply to  Scute
June 1, 2016 12:12 pm

So let me guess. We are going to put some super batteries up in orbit, and charge them up, up there free of clouds. Then once they are fully charged, we drop them back down to land on an Elonmuskobile, to be sent by his vacuum tunnel to where the juice is needed and plugged into the system.
Meanwhile the discharged batteries come back to the launch pad to go fly back to space.
What !! You think there’s a better way to get that space generated electricity down to earth. You’re going to WHAT ! turn it into electro-magnetic radiation and radio it down to earth ??
What a great idea. The problem we have now is that the solar energy beaming to earth in a 30 arc minute conical beam (almost), only has an irradiance near the earth surface of about 1 kW per square meter, and it takes too much land to catch it all.
So now what did you pick for your new EM radiation beam frequency or wavelength ??
You would need to find something that comes through the atmosphere with less absorption or scattering, than the present 250 nm – 4.0 micron wavelength band that we have now.
You would also want to be using a high enough frequency for your new TsR (Total satellite Radiance), so that the irradiance on the ground is higher than 1kW per square meter, or else you would need even larger antenna arrays than are now required for sun spectrum EM radiation.
Well I’m all ears; do tell what your chosen spectrum of re-emission is going to be.
Maybe a geo-synchronous orbit tether ed satellite could be connected to the ground by a big electric cable.
I think I’m going to go and buy a nice rocking chair, and go and sit outside to watch this thing work.

Paul of Alexandria
Reply to  george e. smith
June 1, 2016 8:47 pm

Re this and previous post. No, you don’t break up the panels “for maneuverability” the whole SPS (and the usual figure for an economically viable SPS is 10 square kilometers) stays pointed towards the sun. Just because a satellite is geosynchronous doesn’t mean that it always faces towards Earth! (The antenna, of course, is on a gimbal).
What’s this “drop batteries” stuff? The power is transmitted back, either by microwave or IR laser.

Bryan A
Reply to  Scute
June 1, 2016 7:51 pm

Marshall Savage had a similar idea in his book The Millennial Project

Paul of Alexandria
Reply to  Bryan A
June 1, 2016 8:50 pm

The SPS has been studied for over 30 years. Lots of ways to do it.

Tom Halla
May 31, 2016 10:09 pm

Woo Hoo! Orion is something to make the green blob go into a meltdown. Agreed, solar is not practical ground based, and especially without useful storage. It is interesting, though, that the greens will deny that storage is a real issue and cite imaginary installations. Even though the actual risks of radiation are usually overstated, it is something of a risk, and a proper cost-benefit analysis should be done with real numbers.

Leonard Lane
Reply to  Tom Halla
May 31, 2016 11:23 pm

Solar cells still have a very short lifetime of a couple decades or so. How does this figure into the scheme?

Reply to  Leonard Lane
June 1, 2016 12:05 am

Wikipedia article mentions 8 times more damage in space. That means replacement every 2 to 3 years. A never ending supply from Earth. A catastrophic impact would create so much space junk that you wouldn’t be able to fly a space mission for years to come.

Patrick MJD
Reply to  Leonard Lane
June 1, 2016 12:45 am

“Alex June 1, 2016 at 12:05 am”
Space junk is already a problem for space vehicles and satellites etc and, like climate change, there is sweet FA we can do about it.

Reply to  Leonard Lane
June 1, 2016 2:14 am

But if the future viability of the planet was really at stake, and if nuclear power was unacceptable for whatever reason

Great, how ingenious. Get around the concerns of an explosion leading to a breach of containment leaking highly toxic radioactive materials in the atmosphere by ENSURING that there is an unconstrained nuclear explosion dumping highly toxic radioactive materials directly into the atmosphere.
Cut out the middle man ! A stroke of genius.
Hey let’s restart airborne nuclear testing while we’re about it. Bikini Island 2.0 , way to go !!
I’ve read some dumb shit ideas in my time but this has to be the winner.

Reply to  Leonard Lane
June 1, 2016 11:14 am

I’m with Greg. Why are we even talking about Orion? That was an interesting thought experiment, but the environmental damage alone is insane, much less the potential loss of human life due to routine nuclear blasts.

george e. smith
Reply to  Leonard Lane
June 1, 2016 12:27 pm

Alex, why did you have to go and spoil the fairy tail ??
Just as it was getting to be a fun read.
So ground based solar cells take up too much space to collect sun at 1,000 watt per square meter (and say 25% efficiency).
And we are going to lower that irradiance at a different frequency, and convert it to as much usable electricity, with a much bigger antenna.
Well say goodbye to that Southern California waste desert land project that was going to put up 30,000 square miles of silicon solar cells. (the exact same size as the entire ANWR.) So Ok maybe we will need 300,000 squ miles.
That’s for about one ordinary Nuke’s worth of electric capacity.

John Harmsworth
Reply to  Leonard Lane
June 1, 2016 6:46 pm

The greenies have calculated the efficiency of space based solar is infinitely greater than space based wind mills. Infinite! Can’t get better than infinite!

Paul of Alexandria
Reply to  Leonard Lane
June 1, 2016 8:53 pm

You replace them. And no, not from Earth, at least not for very long. The nice thing about building in space is that you can trade size for cost. Photovoltaic cells made by depositing the semiconductors on metal foil are less efficient, but much cheaper than glass cells.

May 31, 2016 10:11 pm

Hmmm, I’m pretty sure there is a world wide ban on “Weapons in Space”, for a good reason…

Owen in GA
Reply to  Marcus
June 1, 2016 5:55 am

Indeed! Imagine the damage one could inflict by redirecting a couple of terrawatts of concentrated microwave energy at some point on the ground. Dr. Evil will finally have access to real killing power from space!

Reply to  Owen in GA
June 1, 2016 7:52 am

You are absolutely right. Any energy beam that can be directed and focused on a collector can also be focused even more so on a target. Star Wars technology orbiting over their heads would or should not make anybody happy, even those whose country put it up, a such a weapon can easily be turned on the citizens.
Unless we succumb to a totalitarian one-world government, energy transmission from space is NOT viable. In such case, the energy beam would still be a weapon to use to quell any rebellion against the one-world order power-elite.

Roger Lancaster
Reply to  Owen in GA
June 1, 2016 8:22 am

It doesn’t even have to be intentional. Suppose the beam steering computer failed – a terrawatt beam wandering across the landscape.

Reply to  Owen in GA
June 1, 2016 9:16 am

Please get educated about the technology. There is no way a couple of terrawatts of microwave energy could be concentrated at some point on the ground. That is not how this works. We’ve been studying this for over 40 years. Every objection you can think of has been address.

Curious George
Reply to  Owen in GA
June 1, 2016 10:16 am

A great idea, used in at least two James Bond movies.

Reply to  Owen in GA
June 1, 2016 11:06 am

First off, while the beam may be terra watts, on any square millimeter of ground it’s only a few milli-watts.
Secondly built in fail safes. If the monitoring computer detects any problems with the guidance system, it shuts down the beam. Add several layers of backups just to be sure.

Joe Crawford
Reply to  Owen in GA
June 1, 2016 12:26 pm

Sure, didn’t Google’s self driving automobile have all those safety features when it ran into that bus? I spent over 35 years working in/on/&around system reliability, both hardware and software. There is no way in hell I would trust current technology with something as potentially dangerous as transmitting several megawatts of power from space back to the earth in a usable form. Take a look at the additional costs of designing and building a medical system. Try to put that in orbit with the ability to continuously transmit multiple megawatts of power in a concentrated beam and it would add at least one, more likely two or three orders of magnitude in both costs and complexity.

Paul of Alexandria
Reply to  Owen in GA
June 1, 2016 9:00 pm

The power is transmitted by a phased array. Safety measures would be in place to ensure that the beam cannot be collimated or focused smaller than the receiving antenna, and if lock on the receiving antenna is lost the beam automatically and instantly defocuses to drop the intensity to near zero.
It should be noted that everything about an economically feasible SPS is BIG. The photovoltaics are on the order of 10 square kilometers, the transmitting antenna is a kilometer wide, and the receiving station, which would normally be in the desert, is 10 km wide or so.
The receiving station, BTW, is not a parabolic antenna. It is a flat array of “rectennas” – integrated antennas/rectifiers – and would look like nothing more than a net strung on poles. Nothing underneath would be effected.

Michael J. Dunn
Reply to  Owen in GA
June 2, 2016 1:43 pm

L5Rick: My professional specialty at one time was high-energy laser weapon system design, and you are clearly not educated about the technology. Microwave transmission of SPS power beams would be accomplished by phased-array transmitter antennas, as established by the original Peter Glaser studies. Beam steering (centered on a rectenna target) and wavefront shaping (intensity profile) would occur by manipulating the phase differences among the array elements. This is a software problem. Phase adjustments could just as well concentrate the beam on its diffraction-limited focus at that distance. Maybe you can pick the distance so that there is not much focus that can be obtained. Good for you. But at any nearer distance (other space vehicles in the vicinity), the beam can be focused to killing intensity…which needn’t be a problem if you have gigawatts to play with (I have a hard time believing in terawatts; the system would be enormous).

Reply to  Marcus
June 1, 2016 9:14 am

and if you think that the Russians and Chinese have conceded command and control of the Satellite “brains” of the modern battlefield to the USA and Europe without deploying “weaponized” capacity to eliminate it you are more naive than you should be…

May 31, 2016 10:24 pm

Total nonsense

Steve (Paris)
Reply to  Alex
May 31, 2016 10:39 pm

But thought provoking, so it has its merits.

Reply to  Steve (Paris)
May 31, 2016 10:57 pm

What is thought provoking is the length of the list of things that could go wrong.

Reply to  Steve (Paris)
June 1, 2016 12:09 am

I think the Germans call this a gedrunkenexperiment.

Reply to  Steve (Paris)
June 1, 2016 1:24 am

@ jorgekafkazar
The German word is “Gedankenexperiment” meaning “thought experiment.”

Reply to  Steve (Paris)
June 1, 2016 1:43 am

What was that *whoosh* over Roy’s head?

Owen in GA
Reply to  Steve (Paris)
June 1, 2016 5:57 am

What would they call a thought experiment performed at 2 am in a ratskeller performed after a long night of heavy drinking?
Now re-read the comment

Rainer Bensch
Reply to  Steve (Paris)
June 1, 2016 7:09 am

No, ‘Ge drunken experiment’ was quite right.

Reply to  Steve (Paris)
June 1, 2016 8:31 am

Well, the first axiom is wrong. Carbon neutral is a fool term. Environmentally is better to be carbon positive (increase CO2 levels, so plants can grow more and feed more animals) But greenies are so wrong that they are barking at a lamppost, thinking that it is a tree.

Johann Wundersamer
Reply to  Steve (Paris)
June 1, 2016 11:15 pm

jorgekafkazar on June 1, 2016 at 12:09 am
I think the Germans call this a gedrunkenexperiment.
In german such narratives live as ‘Lügen-Baron Münchhausen’:

Reply to  Alex
June 1, 2016 12:08 am

Utter nonsense

Reply to  jorgekafkazar
June 1, 2016 9:33 am

Tesla is so . . . yesterday.

Chris Wright
Reply to  Alex
June 1, 2016 2:53 am

I agree. This idea has been around since the dawn of the space age. It was nonsense then and it’s nonsense now. It’s a ridiculous solution for a problem that almost certainly doesn’t exist.
Peak oil was mentioned as one problem. Just a small problem with that: we’ve been at “peak oil” for many decades and right now we’ve got the stuff coming out of our ears and the world has practically run out of storage space for oil.
By 2050 the CAGW scare will probably be a distant memory and today’s doomsday predictions will look ridiculous. Hopefully by then climate science will have regained its integrity, and people like Hansen and Mann will be a laughing stock.
Although I won’t live to see it, I’m quietly confident that the second half of this century will be dominated by fusion energy. The only question is, what kind of fusion will it be, hot or cold?
Nobody can predict the future. But I seriously doubt that orbital solar power stations will ever be viable, as there will always be cheaper and better solutions (obviously not wind or ground based solar).

Reply to  Chris Wright
June 1, 2016 12:04 pm

Oil production followed the Hubbert curve very closely, until it didn’t.comment image

Reply to  Chris Wright
June 1, 2016 6:58 pm

SPS would be useful for powering things out in space. Jeff Bezos claims he is going to put a bunch of industry in orbit, so he will need a lot of power.

Reply to  Alex
June 1, 2016 5:42 am

project Orion technology is not suitable for earth launch. however, for interplanetary and especially interstellar travel it would be fine. it is the only technology currently known that would permit travel to neighboring stars within a human lifetime. stars that have a high probability of earth like planets.
Given that there were tens of thousands of nuclear warheads produced over the past 70 years, for interplanetary and interstellar travel why not? the solar wind would quickly sweep the solar system clean of the fallout, as would the larger galactic cosmic wind in deep space.

Michael J. Dunn
Reply to  ferdberple
June 2, 2016 1:46 pm

Oh, yes: If you read the literature, you will learn that the system concept was established to be workable from Earth surface to space…but they also had a back-up plan for using a chemical booster to get it above the atmosphere before engaging the fission detonation drive. After that, who cares? Space is radioactive anyway (check your dosimeter).

Reply to  Alex
June 1, 2016 5:46 am

for my part I’d be happy to see the tens of thousands of nuclear weapons produce over the past 70 years used to fuel an interstellar mission rather than leave them on earth.

Reply to  ferdberple
June 1, 2016 7:10 am

Those tens of thousands of warheads produced over the last 70 years get recycled, not stored. It’s their nature to rapidly decay. As to the use in an interstellar spacecraft. Just what material do you propose to use as the surface they work against? Ablative perhaps? How many tons per explosion x how many explosions? this isn’t a concept worth talking about.

Paul of Alexandria
Reply to  Alex
June 1, 2016 9:02 pm

Nope. Totally practical.

John in Oz
May 31, 2016 10:38 pm

Then, when we are totally reliant on SBSP and could not live without it:

The world’s navigation and communication networks are at risk of being brought down by a “catastrophic avalanche” of space junk, researchers have warned.


“The most pessimistic mathematical model says that we are within five years of having a 50-50 chance that a catastrophic avalanche of collisions will occur any day,” Dr Greene said. “The most optimistic model says we’ve got 25 years.”

Lars Silén: Reflex och spegling
May 31, 2016 10:43 pm

I think the natural way of creating large Solar Power Satellites in space is simply to get rid of most of the material lifted from the earth. Capturing one small asteroid in space radius 10 m to simplify calculations would provide 16000 tons of material assuming a density of 4g/cm³.
We are in the middle of a very fast development of 3D printing technology where melting non-metallic powdered material to form ceramic structures or direct printing of metals is possible. The end result is that most of the captured mass could be used and the amount of waste probably would be fairly small.
The value of the small 10 m radius asteroid would be roughly $16 000 000 000 at today’s lifting cost. Of course the price of material in space would drop extremely fast after the first capture.
This means that the first step in building large structures in space is to develop the technology to capture the raw material already there and also to develop the technology for processing the raw material.
I have a strong feeling that mankind will never build any much larger structures than the International Space Station from components lifted from the ground. Big structures will be built using some form of 3D printing technology where even the printing machinery is made in space and only critical microelectronics is lifted from the ground.

Reply to  Lars Silén: Reflex och spegling
June 1, 2016 7:14 am

Where do you propose to get the energy for this space printing not to mention getting an asteroid into Earth orbit or lifting all the gear into orbit? Just put nukes on Earth (like the French) and deal with the waste.

Reply to  expat
June 1, 2016 7:44 am

Solar powered ion rocket. Sure it will take years to move the asteroid into earth orbit. But it will be cheap.

Lars Silén: Reflex och spegling
Reply to  expat
June 1, 2016 3:12 pm

Probably the easiest starting point would be nuclear. Think a highly enriched high temperature military reactor adopted for space use. A high temperature reactor provides process heat directly for some material processes … no need to use electricity to produce heat. When there is an excess of silicon solar cells can be produced. High power means large surfaces to get rid of heat are needed.
Capturing a small asteroid has been studied for many years. If you know the orbit of the asteroid you can nudge it slowly to enter a new orbit that allows it to be captured by the Earth/Moon system. Very little energy is needed for this if capture times of years or decades are acceptable. Complications are of course that the asteroid may be tumbling. Initially only very small masses of perhaps a few tonnes will be captured but later surely technology will be developed to capture fairly big ones. Capturing near Earth asteroids and using them for material will with time clean the near Earth space from dangerous asteroids … but this time is probably far in the future. Today even small ones would be very interesting.
It is interesting to notice that there are classes of technology that becomes very much easier to handle in space where there is an almost perfect vacuum available for free with no need for any pressure vessel. If it is correct that the Bussard Polywell scales proportional to R⁵ and only a very light container is needed then things could be interesting.
For 3D printing of large structures lack of power means slow speed. On the other hand 3D printing in microgravity allows design of extremely light structures that would be impossible to create down on earth but still strong enough. Think printed structures as light or lighter than Bigelow’s modules but printed in place.

Johann Wundersamer
Reply to  expat
June 1, 2016 11:50 pm

Lars, don’t let them greens know about
Capturing a small asteroid has been studied for many years.
You can’t ruin the asteroid belt ‘environment’, destabilizing by freely mass reduction : that whole thing will shotgun the solar system.

Reply to  Lars Silén: Reflex och spegling
June 1, 2016 8:48 am

Instead of Mars, I think the next big task is we should design and build a tug, a small cabin, big nuclear power source, and a wall of ion drives that would move a small moon (figuratively of course) and attachment points to mount it.

May 31, 2016 10:44 pm

If you’re concerned about warming in excess of natural variability, why would you want to pump extra energy into the system?

Reply to  m12edit
May 31, 2016 11:43 pm

Good point as far as it goes. However fossil fuels and nuclear fission (and ultimately fusion) also pump extra energy into the system. Whether that could be a problem depends on the magnitude of the added energy relative to the solar radiation hitting the earth. If the additions are trivial relative to the total solar contribution, that might not be a drawback.
Surface-based sourcing–wind, tidal, photovoltaic, etc.–just moves the existing solar inputs around. If the economics were not so ridiculous now, and in the conceivable future in terms of the limits imposed by the laws of physics, they might be be better in this respect (absent serious unintended consequences of the shifts).

Charles Dandy
Reply to  RalphDaveWestfall
June 1, 2016 6:17 am

Fuels and nuclear are already in the system just stored in a condensed form. This is approach defeats the whole idea of reducing the amount of energy retained by our atmosphere, in theory we could return to a preindustrial albedo and capture enough external solar energy to overheat the world if we enlarge the area and duration of solar absorption.
While surface based technologies such as wind and tidal are attempts to focus diffuse “free energy”, solar applications are an attempt to increase the energy harvested from the sun. The portion of these solar projects that increases the amount of energy retained in the biosphere obviously contributes to AGW but it is not politically appropriate to take this into consideration.

Gary Pearse
Reply to  RalphDaveWestfall
June 1, 2016 10:18 am

Adds energy but the Gang Green (I note in another thread a query about who coined the GG term – I confess it was I probably ~ year ago on this site.) at least couldn’t multiply it by 3 if it isn’t attended by CO2.

Reply to  m12edit
June 1, 2016 7:38 am

Well lets see, all of this supposed Global Warming is caused by the surplus of 1.5w/m^2;
The Earth’s radius is 6,371,000m, A = π * r^2, A = 1.27516117977e+14;
The surplus energy = 1.27516117977e+14m^2 * 1.5w/m^2 = 1.91274176966e+14w;
TOA insolation = 1366 W/m^2, 1.91274176966e+14w/1366 W/m^2 = 140,025,019,740 m^2.
When the Greens start talking about mining the astroid belt for material to putting 150,000 Km^2 of photovoltaic panels in orbit, we’ll know they are serious.

May 31, 2016 10:53 pm

Many Greens would reject a viable energy solution no matter what it was. They don’t want cheap energy. They want it to be expensive so it acts as a limitation to population growth. Of course, they don’t want to limit their own access to energy any more than Leonardo DiCaprio wants to stop flying on private jets. They just want it to be scarce for the rest of us.

Roger Taguchi
Reply to  Louis
June 1, 2016 1:05 am

Don’t forget that jet aircraft flying in the stratosphere leave jet contrails (cirrus-type clouds) which are warming (since they are at very low temperatures, e.g. 220 K, and so emit very low Stefan-Boltzmann T^4 infrared emission to outer space, which at energy balance means a warmer surface temperature for the Earth). These clouds are formed from the water vapor produced by the combustion of hydrocarbon jet fuels, not from natural water vapor in the stratosphere (the saturated vapor pressure of water is very low at -53 Celsius) condensing around nuclei in jet exhaust. These contrails are warming even when they are formed over areas covered by low-lying clouds (e.g. cumulus clouds) in the troposphere, not just over cloud-free surface (land and ocean) areas. So Leo et al. ought to be flying in the rougher weather in troposphere, but that would mean slower speeds, bumpier rides, and less fuel efficiency (i.e. burning even more fossil fuels which produce unwanted CO2). Or just shutting up and staying at home, within bicycling distance of all destinations (electric cars must have their batteries recharged by electric power generated mostly by non-solar or non-windmill sources).

Reply to  Louis
June 1, 2016 5:57 am

Leonardo DiCaprio
what? you mean his jet isn’t solar powered? flying above the clouds would seem a perfect application for solar, to demonstrate just how practical the technology is. take off is no problem, just us a long extension cord. landings you should be able to glide in like the space shovel.

Mark - Helsinki
May 31, 2016 11:12 pm

1 solar flair and sizzle

Mark - Helsinki
Reply to  Mark - Helsinki
May 31, 2016 11:12 pm

lol flare!

Jeff Mitchell
Reply to  Mark - Helsinki
June 1, 2016 1:40 am

Yes, but the sun can flare with flair.

Mark - Helsinki
May 31, 2016 11:14 pm

I also seen a cooky story somewhere about taking power from the VA belt.
Soon as they figure out how to protect astronauts from the particles.

Reply to  Mark - Helsinki
June 1, 2016 9:42 am

Oh, they solved that before the moonshots! Didn’t anyone tell ya?

Reply to  Wrusssr
June 1, 2016 12:46 pm

They didn’t solve the danger from particles, they lived with it, and dodged the bullets (so to say). Of course the danger wasn’t exactly publicized, was it? Neither were the risks inherent in the Space Shuttle program, for which the design engineers expected a “loss of hull” every 200 launches. They weren’t really wrong, were they?

Reply to  Wrusssr
June 2, 2016 5:30 am

brians356 June 1, 2016 at 12:46 pm wrote: “They didn’t solve the danger from particles, they lived with it, and dodged the bullets (so to say). Of course the danger wasn’t exactly publicized, was it? Neither were the risks inherent in the Space Shuttle program, for which the design engineers expected a “loss of hull” every 200 launches. They weren’t really wrong, were they?”
The engineers were fairly close. There were two shuttle loses during the program. One, Challenger in 1986, was lost through human error, when the bureaucrats at NASA ignored the engineers pleas to postpone the launch because the outside temperature was too cold for safety. The bureaucrats decided to launch anyway, and Challenger and its crew died.
The other Space Shuttle that was lost was Columbia in 2003, which was a legitimate accident.
So, NASA accomplished 133 space shuttle launches, with one legitimate accident, and one huge screwup.

Reply to  Wrusssr
June 2, 2016 7:28 pm

Make that 135 total Space Shuttle launches, rather than 133.

May 31, 2016 11:15 pm

thousands of tons at thousands per kilogram is still just billions of dollars, in line with costs of some other solar projects.

Paul of Alexandria
Reply to  MikeN
June 1, 2016 9:05 pm

Can you say “SpaceX”? Try $100/kg in a year or so, $10/kg within a decade.

Reply to  Paul of Alexandria
June 3, 2016 4:19 pm

I saw Elon Musk on tv yesterday, and he said every time he recovered the SpaceX launch vehicle intact, it saved him $37 million dollars.
He said the previous way of operating in space was like operating an airline and throwing the entire aircraft away after each flight.
So instead of throwing $37 million away every launch, like they used to do it, SpaceX is saving that money and passing the savings on to the customers.
The SpaceX booster is supposed to be able to be reused within a matter of hours after recovery, according to the claim.
I’m not sure any have been reused yet. It will be interesting to see how they hold up in service.

May 31, 2016 11:16 pm

2x the efficiency for 100x the cost does not seem very compelling to me.

Reply to  William
June 1, 2016 12:11 am

Aye, there’s the rub.

Gary Pearse
Reply to  William
June 1, 2016 10:23 am

Where did you learn your economics? Hey we’re saving the planet!!

Brian H
May 31, 2016 11:21 pm

SpaceX is developing re-usable launchers, with the goal of reducing costs by a factor of 100 or more.

richard verney
May 31, 2016 11:30 pm

Surely it must be cheaper and easier to get geothermal from the ground. Also a lot less to go wrong.

Patrick MJD
Reply to  Eric Worrall
June 1, 2016 12:50 am

I wonder how many city rate payers know about this? Having lived in the area, Portsmouth, Southampton city council should spend money on more important issues.

richard verney
Reply to  Eric Worrall
June 1, 2016 2:19 am

It produces a little more than you are suggesting:

By 2007 the system had 11 km of pipes, and was producing 40GWh of heat, 22GWh of electricity and 8GWh of cooling per year.

If the cost suggested by you is right, then it is several orders of magnitude cheaper than putting solar panels in space.
All sites have the potential to produce geothermal energy, but obviously some sites are more suitable than others both from the technical and economical standpoints. Southampton (and I lived there as a student) is not one of the places that springs to mind as being best suited for the venture.
Vast solar arrays in space is presently the province of science fiction, and it is probable that in the future there will be better and cheaper Earth bound options.

Reply to  Eric Worrall
June 1, 2016 10:12 am

that claim is wrong and a serious misrepresentation of both the Wikipedia article and the
facts. As Wikipedia states it is a geothermal heating system that does not produce any
electricity but rather supplies heat to over 1000 local homes (mostly council house) plus
the civic building and a local shopping Mall.

Patrick MJD
Reply to  richard verney
June 1, 2016 1:59 am

He was on the board of that geothermal company, which received at least AU$90mil in grants. Well I guess if you work only 3 days per week at AU$180k/yr you just have to find ways to pad out your income.

Reply to  richard verney
June 1, 2016 6:03 am

for the most part geothermal stations have proven to be short lived. as you remove heat from the ground, it is only replaced slowly, and the region around the pipes cools and the whole station loses efficiency.
so in the long run, the power station is limited by the thermal conductivity of the rocks, which is typically quite low.

Patrick MJD
Reply to  ferdberple
June 1, 2016 6:41 am

Classic example of this is Rotorua in New Zealand.

Billy Liar
Reply to  ferdberple
June 1, 2016 7:37 am

The Southampton scheme (see above has been going for 30 years.

John Harmsworth
Reply to  ferdberple
June 1, 2016 7:08 pm

Efficiency could be improved by launching the Southampton geothermal station into orbit and burning money for heat.

Reply to  richard verney
June 2, 2016 2:08 pm

There are a few intangible advantages to geothermal energy, some of them not being perceived as advantages in some quarters. High on the list is independence: there are some corporations, administrations and governements that would not like to see groups of people completely energy self-sufficient… it might be worth a few kilometers of pipes in the ground…

May 31, 2016 11:46 pm

There is enough junk in space as it is.

Tony Mach
May 31, 2016 11:55 pm

This is what Kirk Sorensen (whose expertise I – as an outsider – hugely respect) has written and said many times over on SBSP:
Kirk Sorensen:
“I was involved with space solar power back when I was a grad student at Georgia Tech. We were doing work on super-lost space transportation systems to enable the deployment of space solar power satellites. The primary question to us was: how cheap does the “ride” have to be for SSP to make sense economically? So we had a big cost model where we made all kinds of incredibly optimistic assumptions about SSP technology: 50% efficient arrays with no radiation degradation, %0.25/kW*hr electricity costs in niche markets, giant carbon taxes on all our competition, no problems with power beaming or side-lobes, and free land for all the rectennas we’d ever want.”
“The real eye-opening moment came for me when my colleague, who was doing the cost modeling, typed in “zero” as the launch cost, and then proceeded to show me how the economic case STILL didn’t “close”. Now zero’s a pretty good number, bounding all kinds of cases like moon mining, asteroid mining, maglev launch from the ground, anything. It never gets better than zero. And SSP still couldn’t make an economic argument even at that number.”

In addition to Kirk Sorensen’s words, may I add my personal short list of “ideas” that will not die, but will never see the light of day:
1. Economic fusion reactors! In our lifetime!
2. Helium-3 fusion
3. Helium-3 fusion ON THE MOON.
4. Cold fusion
5. SBSP in our lifetime
6. Economic SBSP in our lifetime
If you like these things, fine, go ahead and dream about them. But if people professionally work on such things and create the illusion that one of these ideas is “the next big thing” and start wasting resources on it, then I get somewhat unsettled.
As much as I want progress, and technology, and space travel, I am afraid Kardashev will have to wait some more…

John Harmsworth
Reply to  Eric Worrall
June 1, 2016 7:14 pm

An interesting diversion, Eric. If a greenie and a politician get wind of it, they’ll have a billion blown on it by morning.

Reply to  Tony Mach
June 1, 2016 12:35 pm

See: Check out fusion news section. The issue is not science but rather the lack of proper funding and cohesive management. It gets down to the definition of fusion in our lifetime; i.e., proof of concept in controlled environment producing sustained reaction (or contentious pulsed) versus a commercialized “fusion reactor on-line” and “our lifetime” meaning what generation? I refer to the above website because it is mine and has been developed over the last 8 years.

Paul of Alexandria
Reply to  Tony Mach
June 1, 2016 9:08 pm

Depends on what Sorensen assumed for his baseline. If you assume a totally Earth-launched system constructed by hand, using 1980’s materials, he may be right. However, we’ve made a bit of progress since then, in materials and in robotics.

Michael J. Dunn
Reply to  Paul of Alexandria
June 2, 2016 2:12 pm

Gotta think through the energy cost of all the aluminum that has to be electrochemically smelted for the production of rocket fuselages. (And also for solid rocket propellant, if that is used.) I have often wondered if the net energy balance of a solar power satellite was actually positive, when such system costs have to be included.

Paul of Alexandria
Reply to  Michael J. Dunn
June 2, 2016 3:17 pm

Gotta think through the energy cost of all the aluminum that has to be electrochemically smelted for the production of rocket fuselages. (And also for solid rocket propellant, if that is used.

What century are you in again?

Michael J. Dunn
Reply to  Paul of Alexandria
June 3, 2016 1:21 pm

Dear Paul,
I worked on reusable launch vehicle designs in the 90s. In our EELV proposal, we put forward a reusable propulsion module. But there was a maximum number of flights expected, then we would start over with a new-manufacture module. I’m in the industry and I have been following SpaceX (cheer-leading) for quite a while, but Musk still needs to establish that a stage can be re-flown reliably, much less how many flights he can get out of a stage. And he has yet to put forward a reusable upper stage (generally not worth doing, at this point). At the flight rates needed to establish an SPS infrastructure, there would still be a large production of fuselages needing aluminum. So the upshot of your response is that you don’t know the answer. (And, if you are familiar with the work of von Braun, the notion of fully-reusable space launchers was published in the mid-20th-century.)

June 1, 2016 12:02 am

The bit that concerns me is the microwave beam pointed at earth. You just need a half competent Blofeld type to hijack it and point it at a high population density area….

Reply to  James MCRAE
June 1, 2016 5:44 am

Although the launch expense makes me no fan of the concept, my understanding is that the radiation would be rather diffuse. A proposed system envisioned by the proponents I represented back in the ’80s had a receiving-antenna peak power density of 230 W/m^2, falling to 1 W/m^2 at the site perimeter. (At 40 deg latitude the antenna would be a 13 km x 10 km ellipse within a site providing a 1-km-wide peripheral margin. Sixty such antennas spaced about 300 km apart were proposed for the continental U.S.)
Not insignificant, but probably tolerable for short intervals of misdirection.

Michael J. Dunn
Reply to  Joe Born
June 2, 2016 2:16 pm

Microwave beams from phased arrays are steered and shaped–and focused–by phase delays across the face of the transmitter array. There is no physical limit to the size or distribution of the delays; it is all software. The beam can be focused to a diffraction-limited profile. Beware. At close range (within a thousand kilometers?), it will easily be a killer if so directed. This thing has all the functionality of a weapon system, except an active tracking mode. Might not be hard to do, considering radar is just a microwave beam that pulses and listens.

Reply to  James MCRAE
June 1, 2016 8:17 am

In the book “Fallen Angels” they used SBSP microwave beam to keep the crashed Astronauts from freezing as they trekked across the Glaciers just north Montreal, after the Greens stopped Global Warming and started the next ice age.

June 1, 2016 12:07 am

Great plan. No more rain on the solar panels, just 56,000 mph dust particles blowing through it. Sounds like a go.

Smokey (Can't do a thing about wildfires)
Reply to  Donald Kasper
June 1, 2016 3:00 am

“No more rain on the solar panels, just 56,000 mph dust particles blowing through it. “
Just like every other telecom bird in GSO, really. For comparison, the ISS in “space-junk-crowded” LEO is working on its second decade with the largest (total comb. area) set of panels in orbit, not without some problems of course but they’re still plenty viable. Another set of solar wings between friends (albeit great big ones) is not really anything special or risky, per se.
In terms of orbital considerations, I’d be more concerned about the great blazing beam of microwaves that everyone in a lower orbit is going to have to navigate in order to avoid winning the “First Casualty Award (Space-Based Bug Zapper: Jigga-Watt class)” ~_^

Billy Liar
Reply to  Smokey (Can't do a thing about wildfires)
June 1, 2016 7:43 am

Yeah, all these panels and no transmission losss for just 4 guys; how many panels to power a city on earth?comment image

Paul of Alexandria
Reply to  Smokey (Can't do a thing about wildfires)
June 1, 2016 9:09 pm

The beam density is actually lower than the background levels. Don’t forget, that beam is a km in diameter, at the SPS.

June 1, 2016 12:07 am

Eric, I suggest you take up science fiction instead of climate science.

Reply to  Frederick Colbourne
June 1, 2016 1:28 am

Is there a difference?

Reply to  Roy
June 1, 2016 6:24 am

you can be sure:
the people’s democratic republic – neither democratic or a republic.
xxxxxx science – junk science for arts students – no science involved.
the amount of junk science over the past 60 years is staggering. 2 favorites:
1. cholesterol is always found at the site of circulatory damage. Thus cholesterol causes heart disease the same way firemen cause fires and policemen cause crime.
2. removing salt from the diet of dangerously overweight people lowers their blood volume and the risk of heart attack. thus we should remove salt from the diet of healthy people, the same way we should give digitalis to people without heart disease, because it helps some people with heart disease.
These hugely illogical health recommendations have been adopted by governments nearly worldwide, in spite of a mountain of evidence that not only are the conclusions wrong-headed they are dangerous.
In large part, the more a government supports a scientific conclusion, the more likely the conclusion is wrong. Because without “official” government support, wrong-headed ideas would give way to better ideas. Consider the role of the Church in keeping the earth at the center of the universe for 1500 years.

John Harmsworth
Reply to  Eric Worrall
June 1, 2016 7:21 pm

How about a space based solar array with storage and laser to propel the proposed light interstellar probes?

June 1, 2016 12:30 am

There is also a Japanese project to build a solar energy belt on the moon:
The idea is to build the facility from the moons natural resources by robots. I think its a lot easier and feasible than a solar facility in orbit. After all the moon has lots of rock and silica to make solar panels out of. Of course the moon’s solar facility would still suffer from the day-night cycle (a day on the moon is about a month long though). Also easier to build big lasers and masers to transfer the energy back to Earth on the moon than in orbit.
Once the moon facility is working one could launch orbital solar colector from the moon at a lower cost than from Earth since the moon is a lot smaller than Earth.

Reply to  SebMagee
June 1, 2016 5:51 am

why not just live on the moon?

John Harmsworth
Reply to  Glenn999
June 1, 2016 7:22 pm

Too hot

Gary Pearse
Reply to  SebMagee
June 1, 2016 10:41 am

For the moon, two connected very big “tanks”, one buried in the ground, the other on the surface with a turbine in the middle of the joining pipe. Hot sun heats the hell out of the gas in the surface tank (plus 200C), pressure pushes the gas into the buried tank in the day and at night, the terrific cooling (-200C) of the surface tank causes the gas movement to reverse – both halves of the cycle turning the central turbine.
Makes we wonder if a “double acting solar panel” could be designed to generate power day and night. Anyone know of a way of using “cold” to generate power?

John Harmsworth
Reply to  Gary Pearse
June 1, 2016 7:30 pm

Boil water, use resultant high pressure steam to spin a turbine on it’s way to a lower pressure, cold-er condenser. For different temperatures you can substitute different fluids with appropriate latent heat, cost, press/temp relationships and thermal efficiency. Hard to beat water, though.

Michael J. Dunn
Reply to  SebMagee
June 2, 2016 2:19 pm

NOT “easier” to build big lasers, etc. Work out the calculations for the beam size and the transmission distance. Lots of ignorance on this page.

June 1, 2016 12:47 am

Renewable sources of energy favoured by eco-loonies are boomeranging back strait into their faces
Forest-destroying palm oil powers cars in EU: report

June 1, 2016 12:53 am

Greens are loons. In the press release is the answer to fossil fuels: nuclear. Leave it to a fanatic to suggest nuclear rockets to launch solar panels into space to add far greater levels of EM-spectrum energy than what the earth already gets.

Gary Pearse
Reply to  AZ1971
June 1, 2016 10:44 am

Here’s an idea! Use the nuclear on the ground to generate power!

Reply to  Gary Pearse
June 1, 2016 7:15 pm

Yeah, nuclear on the ground is the way to go.

John Harmsworth
Reply to  Gary Pearse
June 1, 2016 7:31 pm

Ha! That’s crazy talk!

Dr. Strangelove
June 1, 2016 1:01 am

Much cheaper to put solar panel on your roof than in low earth orbit, even with higher efficiency of space panel.
The Orion rocket still needs a propellant. Atomic explosion in space only produces heat and radiation, not thrust. The thrust will come from the propellant. The advantage of nuclear is higher temperature and pressure of the propellant. But not too high as it could melt the rocket itself. Conventional hydrogen fuel already burns at 3200 C. You can’t go much higher than that without risking the rocket, even if nuclear explosion can reach 100 million C

Dr. Strangelove
Reply to  Eric Worrall
June 1, 2016 7:02 am

The challenge is how to convert the intense heat of nuclear explosion into thrust. Heating any propellant to high temperature will not automatically generate high thrust. Any material under extremely high temperature > 10,000 K will be ionized. The ions will generate thrust but also extreme heat. Think of a plasma torch. It vaporizes metal plates but you can hardly feel the thrust.

Steve Taylor
Reply to  Dr. Strangelove
June 1, 2016 11:28 am

Read the book about the project. Some of the cleverest minds of the 20th century worked on the design.

John Harmsworth
Reply to  Dr. Strangelove
June 1, 2016 7:33 pm

Can I still use the nuclear rocket to put the panels on my roof?

June 1, 2016 1:11 am

What could possibly go wrong when we have solar powered multi gigawatt lasers in orbit? I hope they don’t get metres and yards mixed up.

Gareth Phillips
June 1, 2016 1:21 am

As a lefty with a touch of green this idea strikes me as daft, not because of my politics, but for all the reasons well set out above. If a country wants to reduce it’s carbon footprint, or use less fossil fuels, there is a way. And that is to focus a bit more on domestic generated power. People like myself and Anthony have been doing this for a while with excellent results. This is not about beliefs, it’s just good economics. I get most of my hot water from solar, as well as most of my electricity. The investment in a German wall mounted battery also makes the system much better at filling the gaps when its cloudy. In this way we could substantially reduce our need for centrally generated power. And yes, it’s initially expensive, but nowhere near as pricey as daft ideas like sending panels into orbit or getting the Chinese to build nuclear power stations.

Reply to  Gareth Phillips
June 1, 2016 3:45 am

Please subsidize me so I can put a solar panel out my condo window and find the space for that German battery. I prefer the deposit in euros in my bank in Spain.

John Harmsworth
Reply to  Gareth Phillips
June 1, 2016 7:39 pm

I get my water from the neighbour’s faucet. That’s the true greenie-lefty way!

Ivor Ward
June 1, 2016 1:28 am

Perhaps I can get a huge grant to research my anti-gravity machine now. I got a terrific idea from a Marvel Comic. Should work with a few billions thrown at it.

Reply to  Ivor Ward
June 1, 2016 2:26 am

Ivor, if you get that grant for n anti-gravity machine, I’d like to apply for the job of ‘Sr. Engineer in Charge of Pondering.’ Just set me up with a desk over in the corner and I’ll ponder how to create an anti-gravity machine.
P.S. Admittedly, it can often be difficult to tell whether I am pondering or napping, but I can assure you that I will be pondering.

Lawrence Ayres
June 1, 2016 2:09 am

Why are they wasting effort on moonbeams when the obvious answers already exist here on Earth; coal, hydro, nuclear.

Bruce Cobb
Reply to  Lawrence Ayres
June 1, 2016 4:57 am

Silence, whippersnapper! We are thinking Great Thoughts here!
Like, if seven thousand maids with seven thousand mops swept the beaches for half a year, do we suppose that they could sweep them clear? And what about all the shoes, ships and sealing wax, and cabbages and kings, and why the sea is boiling hot, and whether pigs have wings?

Peta in Cumbria
June 1, 2016 2:12 am

Ah man, easy peasy.
just go to the sun, scoop up a few tamker loads of whatever its made of and fetch it home.
Jobs a goodun.
hey, maybe while we’re up there, way up in the sky, we can find a baby black hole. Maybe they’re black but I’m sure they’re not hard to find. And they’re fantastic, you get mc squared power efficiency just by shovelling any old junk into them. (Maybe not junk climate science,its such total junk even a black hole couldn’t swallow it)
Ah yes, got it now. We collect some of that carbonoxide puffing out of power station chimbleys, (doesn’t take a lot I understand) and put it in a tank where all the ‘waste heat’ from the same power station cooling towers can ‘shine’ on it. Just run a few pipes round the top of the tower might do.
Then as we all know and fully understand, greenhouse gas theory says the carbonoxide will absorb the longwave radiation that the waste heat is emmiting and get really hot. How hot? Well, it can set the world on fire seemingly, so thats pretty hot by my book. Then all this hotness will make more steram for the power station that will amke more waste heat that will make more hot carbonoxide and so on. Only problem now is stopping the power staion getting too hot innit?
Look at aaaaaaall them silly power stations everywhere, why don’t they do that?
So, when I’m not having a silly rant, is it inconceivable that the heat (LWIR) leaving the surface of earth can be considered as ‘waste heat’ and as such cannot do any more work – that is – make anything else warmer………….

June 1, 2016 2:31 am

“Ah man, easy peasy.
just go to the sun, scoop up a few tamker loads of whatever its made of and fetch it home.
Jobs a goodun.”

Just be sure to land at night, otherwise it’s too hot on the sun.

Dodgy Geezer
June 1, 2016 2:42 am

…There is a Way to make Renewables Viable…
No there isn’t!
This plan has 2 huge flaws. The first is that getting the power safely to the ground is beyond state of the art. The second is that supplying and servicing the collectors is AT the state of the art.
It also seems to be the case that Mr Worrall has not heard of the Sabre/Skylon package, which would be the obvious way to shift large volumes into orbit. Orion is right out! See

Dodgy Geezer
Reply to  Eric Worrall
June 1, 2016 4:17 am

…Sabre/Skylon can transport 15 tonnes into orbit. Orion is many orders of magnitude more capable….
The Skylon concept is not, like Orion a one-off or small number, like the shuttles. It is a fleet, and is designed to be built like an airliner.
Total airline freight capacity for the world is currently of the order of 100m tonnes annually. Let’s see an Orion plan to beat that.

Dodgy Geezer
Reply to  Eric Worrall
June 1, 2016 4:25 am

…The power beam concept has been tested….
I didn’t say you can’t transmit power. I said you can’t do it safely. And you can’t.
Incidentally, the tests simply indicate the inefficiencies involved:
…Although the amount of power sent, 20 watts, is barely enough to power a small compact fluorescent light bulb, and most of it was lost in transmission, the system was limited by the budget not the physics. If they had been able to afford more solar panels, more phased array transmitters and a better receivers (the one they had could only receive in the horizontal direction), Mankins claims they could do much better– possibly up to 64% efficiency….

John Harmsworth
Reply to  Eric Worrall
June 1, 2016 7:44 pm

Yeah, but Eric; just put the panels on your roof, man.

June 1, 2016 2:51 am

Please don’t give them any ideas. As Smokey the Bear says, “Keep Litter In It’s Place”.

Warren Latham
June 1, 2016 2:56 am

“Solar” power eh ?
No problem: we already have solar power in storage … it’s called COAL.
Some people can’t see the wood for the trees.

Reply to  Warren Latham
June 1, 2016 9:53 am

Yew fool. Don’tcha know the cheapest fuel known to mankind to generate electricity is destroying us? What’s wrong with yew?

June 1, 2016 3:10 am

Well Eric, while I was reading through your article above and passing through various sentences. All to a building James Bond theme in the back of my mind…

“…Launching solar panels into orbit might sound far fetched, but it is being seriously considered by a number of national space programmes…”

“…Part of the solar energy (55–60%) is lost on its way through the atmosphere…”

“…SBSP also introduces several new hurdles, primarily the problem of transmitting energy from orbit to Earth’s surface for use…”

Only there will not be any British agent para-sailing to the rescue or flying a microwave torched jumbo jet in circles.
Again, the governments plan to throw money at solutions with unsolved major issues without concern for hazards or costs.
Those piddling land based solar farms that can only fry birds and bats over a small grid area, now get a chance to fry birds and bats at any altitude they’re capable of flapping through.
Planes need to watch their wings too.
Then there is the problem of cutting an ionized channel of air to the ground. Lightning loves ionized atmosphere channels. Can a microwave receptor handle multiple lightning strikes?
Lars Silén is correct, that a power generation facility in orbit should be used in orbit. Smelting and refining ores then constructing larger space facilities would be far more efficient and would deliver far more value.

June 1, 2016 3:29 am

Show me the cable to transmit the gained energy reliable to planet earth. After that… stop, there is no after that…

Paul of Alexandria
Reply to  lightismagic
June 1, 2016 9:12 pm

Cable? What part of microwave beam don’t you understand. However if you insist on a cable, go look up “space elevator”.

Reply to  Paul of Alexandria
June 1, 2016 9:15 pm

Microwaves? OMG

June 1, 2016 3:29 am

As James MCRAE says:

The bit that concerns me is the microwave beam pointed at earth. You just need a half competent Blofeld type to hijack it and point it at a high population density area

Primitive, and unimaginative.
Such a tool is focused on a small area, such as to eliminate a single person. A head of state, a diplomat, a banker, anyone who is inconvenient. A single bit of attention from such a tool need last only a millisecond or so. Even cowering inside a building would offer no protection. Once such persons are eliminated, a more robust program of fundraising can be initiated. We do note the crude effectiveness of wide area beam deployment, even though it lacks a certain elegance. We also note that that a few demonstrations of the device are all that is required such that all negotiating partners will fall into line. We do grow weary of small minds thinking small thoughts. The world is much improved by eliminating such small minds, especially in the ruling classes. If the ruling class wishes to rule, it must know that it itself is ruled. It is the natural order of things.
The World Is Not Enough
Diamonds Are Forever

Bob M
June 1, 2016 3:48 am

If this is truly a good way to use solar panels then it follows that we should be looking for other planets with large solar arrays. Not only will they be easier to spot but the arrays will indicate what phase of development their society is in.

June 1, 2016 4:02 am

The problem with solar (and with wind) is their energy density. Solar is 0.0000015 Joules per cubic meter, wind is about 7 Joules per cubic meter and gasoline is about 10 X 10^9 Joules per cubic meter. This is the real reason why, despite spending hundreds of billions on renewables, they supply a paltry 2.5% of the world’s energy needs. Energy is the ability to do work. You just can’t get around the facts.

June 1, 2016 4:04 am

Perhaps we should develop a power source driven by human stupidity.
That seems to be something of which we have an unlimited supply.

Reply to  Felflames
June 1, 2016 4:30 am

Thanks, Felflames. Now I finally understand the meaning of sustainability.

June 1, 2016 4:07 am

One orbital power producing entity.
A single point of failure.
One-stop shopping terror target for the planet.
The people who make power windows for your car now in charge of your children’s survival.
No single sovereign nation could afford it, all nations indebted to the one that operates it.
Anyone with the power to destroy something in space rules the world.
Only fools would generate gigawatt power in several weather-hardened enclosures.
Only fools would use simple technologies.
Only fools would use natural gas, coal and steam.
Only fools would go nuclear.
And only the most insane of them would use Thorium.
This futurist stuff used to be exciting, back when there were enough people making energy using reliable, time-tested methods that were certain to ensure our continued survival.
This futurist stuff became somewhat funny when we began to realize that a few college grads actually believed that the industrialized world could be sustained by intermittent energy. “When the power goes out we’ll just… go to bed.” Or single-entity energy (eg orbital solar) owned by a consortium that is produced by a consortium that is Your Friend. Or Holy Grail fusion.
It’s not funny anymore. Crap-solutions have overtaken tried-and-true solutions. The idiots are running things now.

June 1, 2016 4:09 am

Actually worked on one of these in my early career. My estimate was launch costs of at least 1 trillion dollars for a 1 GW plant. So even with 100 fold decrease in cost you are at 10 Billion. Plus equipment cost, plus issues with getting the power to the ground. We had some ideas for greatly reducing the mass, but the tech to do that has not yet been developed although they are making progress.

Paul of Alexandria
Reply to  fred4d
June 1, 2016 9:14 pm

Don’t forget, though – a great deal of that cost is in the NRE. You obviously don’t stop at just one!

June 1, 2016 4:34 am

The idea of satellite-based solar power (SSP) in geo-stationary orbit has been around for decades. It was an important focus of research at the Space Studies Institute (founded by Gerard K. O’Neill, the visionary who proposed human colonies in space),
Because of the high cost of lifting materials from Earth, SSI has focused on space-based manufacturing, primarily on the Moon, using mass drivers to launch cargo from the Moon.
Similar technology (magnetic drivers) can be used to launch maglev vehicles from Earth, thus reducing the cost; see the StarTram Project:
Given the high infrastructure cost and needed technological development (robotics, 3-D printing/manufacturing, magnetic propulsion, etc.) Solar Satellite Power is not likely to be cost-competitive with Earth’s vast ‘fossil’ fuel and radioactive-metal resources for some time to come. This assumes of course we can get rid of the neo-Luddite governments which stand in the way of cheap hydrocarbon and nuclear energy.
But we should not dismiss the idea of SSP out of hand; the principles are already understood. What is needed is more development of the underlying technology, especially mining and manufacturing on the moon (and on asteroids). The infrastructure developed will then become the foundation for human exploration of Mars and beyond, and beamed power will be an ancillary benefit.
/Mr Lynn

chris y
Reply to  L. E. Joiner
June 1, 2016 8:39 am

I looked at this a few years ago, using laser light to transport energy to the surface. My first step was to compare the space based solution to a terrestrial solution in Arizona or some similar sunny, arid place:
Energy delivered to the grid- 1365 W/m^2 in orbit gives 33 kWh/m^2/day energy available. Panel efficiency of 20%, DC to laser light of 60%, thermal derate of 10%, laser light to DC of 40%, DC to AC of 90%, thermal derate of 10%, gives total conversion efficiency for substation-ready power of 3.5%. This gives about 1.1 kWhr/m^2/day of electrical energy, where area refers to the orbiting solar panel.
A fixed panel mounted in Arizona will receive 6.5 kWhr/m^2/day averaged over the year, and almost 8 with a single-axis tracking mount. With 20% panel efficiency, DC to AC of 90%, thermal derate of 10%, a resulting efficiency of 16% gives an average daily output of about 1.05 kWhr/m^2/day for a fixed panel.
The efficiency improvement gained by mounting panels in space is thrown away in the transfer of that energy from orbit to Earth.
That’s when I gave up on the concept. There are also issues with cost.

Paul of Alexandria
Reply to  chris y
June 1, 2016 9:17 pm

That’s why you use microwave. You can get much higher conversion efficiencies (and no atmospheric blockage).

chris y
Reply to  chris y
June 2, 2016 6:51 am

“That’s why you use microwave.”
100% wall-plug efficiency on the source and the receiver, zero propagation loss and 100% beam capture efficiency, and you are still at around 4.5 kWh/m^2/day in space.
You need to compete with 20% efficient solar panels on two-axis tracker mounts in Arizona, which can give you 1.5 kWh/m^2/day.
An impossible to achieve 3x improvement is not worth the huge expense (initial install and ongoing O&M) of putting the stuff in space.

June 1, 2016 4:45 am

And I thought that the solar roadways idea was the worse load of nonsense that I would ever hear of.
Can anybody think of a more stupid idea?
How about encasing solar panels in concrete and burying them underground?
Oh, I forgot, that idea is already in circulation…

June 1, 2016 4:45 am

I don’t see why we need this – solar power works perfectly well where you have a climate with many sunny days and where peak demand is from daytime aircon…
The only argument is about unfair subsidy (increasingly it doesn’t need any subsidy at all though).
Demand is always less overnight and even current battery storage helps out there.

Reply to  Griff
June 1, 2016 7:35 am

Unless you couple tax subsidies with Zero Interest rates in a regional climate with crappy sunshine and the only level terrain is farmland. Oh, let’s say some place like Vermont, where the developers are raping the pristine ridges with wind farms and taking hundreds of of acres of prime farmland out of production with ugly solar for the foreseeable future because the State has a goal of 90% renewable energy by 2050. It needs a lot of subsidy in Vermont because it wouldn’t be economically feasible without it, yet they are jumping all over it. Bugger thy neighbor and all…

Reply to  Yirgach
June 2, 2016 6:47 am

solar panels as installed on UK solar farms (when they aren’t in recycling centres or old airfields) don’t prevent grazing underneath and are on poorer quality pasture, not prime agricultural land (by planning law).
Or on roofs (Jaguar car plant) or airports (Belfast Airport – which doesn’t get any subsidy for its ‘private wire’ array).
shouldn’t be a problem in Vermont either -but in a sunny SW/desert state it definitely works…

June 1, 2016 4:49 am

‘The obstacle to space based solar power is obviously the launch cost.’
I disagree. The biggest obstacle, and destroyer of the concept, is heat. It’s near impossible to cool things in space.

June 1, 2016 5:05 am

This story made me think of Lex Luthor, Superman’s nemesis. It’s dim, I could be misremembering, but I recall a comic where Lex was able to redirect an energy beam from space and destroy cities.
While I was trying to find a link, I found this interesting site. Lex was an idealist and he was viewed as a hero by some. Because of his great wealth, and his belief that the ends justify the means, he ended up being very evil. This reminds me of some non-fictional folks. Thank goodness that The Donald doesn’t seem to be idealistic. 🙂

chris moffatt
June 1, 2016 5:17 am

On a planet where the total power usage is 104,000 TW, give or take, 20% of which is electricity how many of these things will be needed? At 1GW and $10^9 each, seems a little impractical to me but then I’m not a space engineer.

June 1, 2016 5:18 am

Hi from Oz. Sorry to rain on your parade, guys, but anyone who has worked with radio transmitters and receivers (I was a radio ham 50 years ago, and had a 20 year career in aviation radio/electronics) knows that transmitting ‘power’ by radio is nonsense, because the physics says that the transmission losses are astronomically (no pun intended) high, even at distances of a few feet, let alone thousands of miles. Fuggedaboudit, it’s all utter hokum. Reality is a bitch!

Reply to  Boyfromtottenham
June 1, 2016 7:20 am

I’d agree, unless you could make a microwave “laser”.

Leo Smith
Reply to  beng135
June 1, 2016 8:19 am

microwave laser = maser
invented before laser.
ideas still utter junk tho

Reply to  beng135
June 1, 2016 5:09 pm

Nikola Tesla successfully demonstrated broadcast power. Unfortunately, all his notes were lost in a fire.

Paul of Alexandria
Reply to  Boyfromtottenham
June 1, 2016 9:20 pm

There’s a big difference between transmitting a signal and transmitting power. First of all, it’s a very high-gain transmitting antenna. The beam is single-frequency, hitting the appropriate atmospheric window for minimal absorption and transmission loss. Finally, the rectenna receiving arrays are extremely efficient.

Alan Watt, Climate Denialist level 7
June 1, 2016 5:23 am

The idea of rocket propulsion by combustion of explosive substance was first proposed by Russian explosives expert Nikolai Kibalchich in 1881, and in 1891 similar ideas were developed independently by German engineer Hermann Ganswindt. General proposals of nuclear propulsion were first made by Stanislaw Ulam in 1946, and preliminary calculations were made by F. Reines and Ulam in a Los Alamos memorandum dated 1947. The actual project, initiated in 1958, was led by Ted Taylor at General Atomics and physicist Freeman Dyson, who at Taylor’s request took a year away from the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton to work on the project.

Jules Verne proposed it earlier. In his 1865 novel From the Earth to the Moon, the Baltimore Gun Club built a giant canon to propel an aluminum capsule with three passengers all the way to the moon.
One problem with microwave transmission from orbit is it requires a large antenna farm to turn the microwaves back into usable electricity. Fortunately, we happen to have a bunch of abandoned wind farms which would be suitable.

John Harmsworth
Reply to  Alan Watt, Climate Denialist level 7
June 1, 2016 8:06 pm

“Proposed” is too strong a word for Jules Verne’s goofy ideas. Figure out the g-force in that capsule. You first!

chris moffatt
June 1, 2016 5:25 am

OTOH if this works we should definitely think about putting wind generators in space too.

Reply to  chris moffatt
June 1, 2016 10:05 am

Of course! Frigidairorators!

chris y
Reply to  chris moffatt
June 1, 2016 10:18 am


Walt D.
June 1, 2016 5:29 am

A problem with renewables is the government subsidy. Where does this money come from? Recently, the FED just prints the money, so it just materializes out of thin air. This way, cost does not enter into the equation.
As Robert Murphy points out, we can create as many green jobs as we need. All we need to do if put people on exercise bikes that drive a generator and have them pedal all day. However, what is the economic output of all this effort?
I am not generally in favor of the government subsidizing anything. However, IMHO we would be better off subsidizing nuclear fusion research. Even then, as Freeman Dyson has said, the government may end up backing the wrong horse.

Reply to  Walt D.
June 1, 2016 5:51 am

The problem is that everybody has some idea which they think should be subsidized in their opinion.
We can all subsidize something, which in our opinion deserves a subsidy.
This system is called the free market. If you want to subsidize Apple computers then buy Apple products or shares. Other people who are not interested in Apple can subsidize something else. No problem.
The problem only arises when one group of powerful bureaucrats extort money from the populace and use it to subsidize the thing which needs a subsidy, in their opinion.
Printing money is creating money from thin air. However since the money is a claim to goods and services which are finite – it is effectively stealth taxation of holders of that currency. i.e. more extortion, but slightly less obvious.
You can print money. You can’t print the labor and resources which it represents. So the money loses purchasing power.
And so does the money held as savings. It’s just a sneaky way of devaluing everybody’s cash savings, without the general populace noticing that they are being effectively robbed.

John Harmsworth
Reply to  Walt D.
June 1, 2016 8:09 pm

The government IS the wrong horse! Wrong end anyway!

June 1, 2016 5:36 am

It’s two for one! We could shade the earth at the same time, thus preventing the inexorable AGW.

June 1, 2016 5:36 am

Why bpther? Miskolczi theory has proved AGW impossible. Same follows from an observation of the global temperature chart from NOAA. It shows a steady thirty year temperature rise starting in 1910 and stopping in 1940. The extended Keeling curve showa that there was no corresponding increase of atmospjeric carbon dioxide

June 1, 2016 5:50 am

Space Elevator

A space elevator is a proposed type of space transportation system. The main component would be a cable (also called a tether) anchored to the surface and extending into space. The design would permit vehicles to travel along the cable from a planetary surface, such as the Earth’s, directly into space or orbit, without the use of large rockets.

Reply to  rovingbroker
June 1, 2016 11:11 am

We’ll get right on it as soon as someone invents a material strong enough to take the stress. We need about 3 orders of magnitude of improvement on the strongest known materials.

Paul of Alexandria
Reply to  MarkW
June 1, 2016 9:22 pm

No, only about 1 order of magnitude. Fullerene cable could do it, if we could just figure out how to make it long enough.

Mike McMillan
June 1, 2016 5:53 am

That’s gonna take one heck of a big magnetron.

Reply to  Mike McMillan
June 1, 2016 11:12 am

Or many in parallel

Paul of Alexandria
Reply to  MarkW
June 1, 2016 9:23 pm

The transmitting antenna is a phased array. Same sort of technology that they use in the AEGIS naval radar systems.

June 1, 2016 5:54 am

I didn’t get it at first, but now I understand the clever way this article mocks the ideas of solar power proponents by proposing an obviously inane idea like “solar panels in space”, while maintaining a serious tone throughout.

June 1, 2016 6:04 am

We already have a foolproof reliable and cheap method of producing energy, which is about to go commercial within 5 years – it’s called a molten salt reactor. Stop wasting time and money on nonsensical crap like this.

Ric Haldane
Reply to  arthur4563
June 1, 2016 7:28 am

True, but…. NRC approval is a very slow process. All of the other government departments want to see solar and wind. I would expect the process of approval to be even slower.

Reply to  Ric Haldane
June 2, 2016 5:59 am

Ric Haldane June 1, 2016 at 7:28 am wrote: “True, but…. NRC approval is a very slow process. All of the other government departments want to see solar and wind. I would expect the process of approval to be even slower.”
Maybe in about nine months or so, that approval process will speed up.

John Harmsworth
Reply to  arthur4563
June 1, 2016 8:13 pm

MSR time X 10 equals fusion reactor time?

June 1, 2016 6:08 am

Further to the thirty year warming of early twentieth century above. It lasted from 1910 to 1940 and then was followed by an abrupt temperature drop that introduced World War II. This is proof that the warming cannot possibly be greenhouse warming. The only way you can stop and reverse greenhouse warming is to remove every absorbing carbon dioxide molecule from the air and this clearly did not happen. With that, we have eliminated greenhouse warming from one third of the century. It follows that if there was no greenhouse warming in the early century there surely was none earlies, in the nineteenth century. And that kills any chance that greenhouse warmingstarted with the industrial age. There is actually no way to prove that any greenhouse warming took p[lace during the rest of the twentieth century either. And I would add to it the twenty-first century as probably also free of the greenhouse effect. All this follows from the observed behavior of global temperature as well as from MGT, the greenhouse theory of Dr. Ferenc M. Miskolczi.

Gunga Din
June 1, 2016 6:25 am

One way to reduce the cost would be to make the panels out of a bunch of those old AOL disk.

John Robertson
June 1, 2016 6:51 am

Good post Eric.
However the energy solution is simple, move closer to the sun.

June 1, 2016 6:52 am

Green energy, and technological leadership — what’s not to like? Somebody needs to pitch this to the provincial government of Ontario. They will make it happen.

June 1, 2016 7:03 am

If you wrap both the Earth and Moon with coils of wire, their respective movements in relation to each other would generate a current in the wire, would it not? 😉 You’d be able to extract even more energy if you super-cooled the system.

June 1, 2016 7:30 am

Feasibility of Orbital Solar Power
Perhaps, if we could put the solar PV panels in orbit around the Earth where the sun shines 24/7 and there is no loss of energy in the atmosphere creating Solar Power Satellites. The same amount of power could be generated with an array only 504.14 km by 504.14 km (254,160 km^2) or 313.26 by 313.26 miles (98,131.7 miles^2) and at a cost of three times that on the surface, it would probably cost about $48.2 Trillion to install. NASA studied this concept back in the “70s” when oil was still cheap and solar PV panels were a lot more expensive than they are today. Orbital PV power was assumed to not be feasible as it was assumed that we would be using nuclear (fusion) power by now. The point to this is that a lot of the conceptual groundwork has already been done by NASA. It is arguable that all that needs to be done is to dust it off and update it. Although there would be some land use required on the surface of the planet for receiving the power it would only be a very small fraction of that required with the panels on the surface. In the “70s” the choice was microwaves, now lasers are feasible. Thus there is a lower cost and lesser land use — and more importantly this could be scalable. We use a conversion efficiency of 35% in this part of the study but with advanced technologies that could be increased even more e.g. you could use mirrors to focus the energy and then run steam boilers and turbines. The entire system would be more efficient in a vacuum as the gap between the armature and the stator could be closed and that would make the generators a lot more efficient.
The orbital PV panels will also lose capacity at a rate of about 5% per year and be replaced at about 20 years of life or when they reach 75% of their original capacity. Using that number and the goal of having an objective of replacing all carbon based fuels with solar PV panels in 50 years we need to get to a sustained production rate of about 10,588.0 km^2 of solar PV panels per year and then stay at that rate. This would cost about $2.006 Trillion per year and will maintain above 1,065,248.4 TWh of power the minimum required for 9.5 billion people.

Reply to  Tomer D. Tamarkin
June 1, 2016 7:43 am

This would cost about $2.006 Trillion per year and will maintain above 1,065,248.4 TWh of power the minimum required for 9.5 billion people.

Uh, does that mean I have to give up my electric toothbrush?

Reply to  Yirgach
June 1, 2016 12:39 pm

That is after the probably cost about $48.2 Trillion to install. The entire point of my comment is to show that this idea is unworkable and it has been floated decades ago.

June 1, 2016 7:37 am

Anyone who has flown over Canadian Shield country has passed over endless miles of scrub evergreens and lakes.
Other than transmission losses and some land-claim issues, it would seem feasible to build clusters of fission reactors with land and cooling water in good supply. Roads and sometimes rails are in place where mines have been developed.
Surely transmission losses from Cochrane, Ontario are less than from orbit.

June 1, 2016 7:39 am

Manufacture it on the moon and use rail guns for launching the components.

Leo Smith
June 1, 2016 8:03 am

meanwhile, in an alternative anti-universe, scientist proves that a solar panel generates more energy falling down the gravity well back to earth than it ever does from sunlight.
what have they got on you anthony?
This is rubbish and you know it

Dudley Horscroft
June 1, 2016 8:16 am

One problem of the space elevator as presently proposed is that it is designed with a tail extending above Geostationary Orbit, as that the whole of the ‘rope’ is in tension, with the greatest tension at GO level. Think carefully. At GO level the upward and downward forces balance. As altitude decreases, the upward force decreases and the downward force increases. The whole of the rope is still in tension, but far less than if there is a massive “anti-mass” or counterweight hanging above GO level. At earth level the downward force has decreased to zero, as there is no more rope hanging below the earth level. So the rope should have the smallest cross section at earth level and at GO level, thickening in (or abouts) the middle where it has to support the weight of all the rope below it. This means far less material, and the strength of the rope does not need to be so high.
Now carbon is suggested as the ideal material – in the form of nanotubes – as there are fewest protons and neutrons in the molecules, with the strength depending – apparently – on the outer layers of electrons. Not sure how the strength of carbon nanotubes would stand up at about 4 K, suspect it would be about zero. An alternative material at those temperatures is solid metallic hydrogen. Surely there may be a hydrogen isotope which would, at temperatures of 4 to 10 K have sufficient tensile strength to form a rope and not evaporate away?

June 1, 2016 8:20 am

We all know the real “problem” is too many people wanting to live too materially well AND not have any negative impact on the non-human world. No solution will be good enough. If the world went 100% solar and wind, the screaming would be about bird chopping and frying. And still, loss of natural habitat and too much material consumption (by the Others).
We are in a clash of ideologies: Rousseauian social idealism vs capitalist, material pragmatism. Idealism has no point of victory in the real world, and certainly not in this one. Whatever we do, the McKibbens and Kleins will complain. And adjust their targets and tactics.
We need our governors to stand up and say, there are tradeoffs to the good life, and these are them. Move on.

June 1, 2016 8:25 am

The problem is “How do you protect a 1GW maser beam from accidental intrusion by something (or someone!) that can absorb the beam and become instantly converted to a white-hot plasma?”
This power system would have the same output as 30,000 AN/SEQ-3 30-kW Laser Weapon System units (the US Navy’s anti-aircraft laser) – CONTINUALLY.

Paul of Alexandria
Reply to  tadchem
June 1, 2016 9:28 pm

Sigh. Do you people even read the articles? While the beam total power is in the gigaWatts, the beam density is very low, less than background levels, actually. A bird flying through the beam might get a little warm (although most plans call for locating the receiving arrays outside of migratory bird pays anyways).

Reply to  Paul of Alexandria
June 2, 2016 6:05 am

Frustrating, isn’t it, Paul. As Paul says, every objection to this concept has been addressed in the past, including all the objections posted here in this thread. Everything old is new again.

June 1, 2016 8:39 am

Eric wrote:
“The obstacle to space based solar power is obviously the launch cost.”
My college thermodynamics professor participated in the early 70s NASA study on space-base solar. As I recall, cost was merely one of several obstacles. For instance, back in 1978 a study was made to determine places where the ground-based reciver should not be placed:
To quote: “as set forth in the reference design, these receiving
antennas will require sites of approximately 50,000 acres each, with
60 such sites being required across the United States.”
About 83% of the US was so identified as excluded back then. Reasons for exclusion included:
National Recreation Areas …………..
Indian Reservations ……………..
Military Reservations …………….
Other Federal Lands ……
Indian Reservations ……………..
Military Reservations …………….
Other Federal Lands ……………..
National Forests ………………..
Population Density Greater Than 50 Persons per Square Mile (1970 data)………………
Wetlands ……………………
Topography Unacceptable ……………..
Navigable Waterways ……………….
Interstate Highways ……………….
Endangered Species Habitats ……………
“Prime Agricultural Lands” ……………
Flyways of Migratory Waterfowl ………….
Seismic Hazards …………………
North of 40 Degree Latitude ……………….
Winds Greater Than 50 Knots ……………
Number of Days With hail …………….
Number of Days With Thunderstorms …………
Sheet Rainfall………..
Because of limited data and computing power at the time, several additional factors were not considered, including:
Local or State Owned Land (State and Local Parks)
Poor SoiIs
High Groundwater Table
Highways Other Than Interstate Highways
Airports and Air Approach Corridors
Major Air Corridors
Dust Storm Areas
Wildlife Habitats (Other Than Designated Endangered Species)
Very Poor Air Quality
Near Major/Numerous RF Sources
so the area excluded would almost certainly increase..
And by the way, if mirror misalignment could seriously damage Ivanpah, just imagine what could be done if the microwave energy of a 5 GW space-solar plant is maliciously or accidentally “misaligned”. Probably not an instant “death ray” given its dispersion, but certainly not an acceptable risk for my family.

Paul of Alexandria
Reply to  sciguy54
June 1, 2016 9:36 pm

?.. just imagine what could be done if the microwave energy of a 5 GW space-solar plant is maliciously or accidentally “misaligned”….

The answer to that is simple: none. In fact, in normal operation the transmitting antenna would look onto a signal from the receiving station. If for any reason it loses the signal, the beam (transmitted from a phased array similar to a phased-array radar) would be set to disperse at a wide angle (you don’t just turn off that much power quickly). The key is beam density, which, even in normal operation,,is very low, especially by the time that it reaches Earth.

Joe - the climate scientiest
June 1, 2016 8:42 am

Really bad idea –
Even assuming that the system becomes cost effective ( a big if)
You are taking an energy source (heat) that would otherwise not enter the earth’s atmosphere and using it to heat the planet (in the form of energy) , in effect creating more heat.
With existing solar power, you are only converting heat that is already inside the earth’s atmosphere and converting it into usable energy. (albeit inefficiently)

Paul of Alexandria
Reply to  Joe - the climate scientiest
June 1, 2016 9:37 pm

But you’re eliminating other heat sources, so it evens out.

June 1, 2016 8:45 am

For a fun read about orion used in Sci-Fi read Footfall by Larry Niven.

Gunga Din
Reply to  Timo Soren
June 1, 2016 1:27 pm

Didn’t he write Ringworld?
“Ash nazg durbatulûk, ash nazg gimbatul, ash nazg thrakatulûk, agh burzum-ishi krimpatul.”
Roughly translated:
“One Ring to rule them all, One ring to find them; One ring to bring them all
and in the darkness bind them.”
Maybe they were a Nostradamus-type of thing? The “One Ring” was a tree ring?

Reply to  Gunga Din
June 1, 2016 5:47 pm

Gunga, your discussions seems to be following a spiral …

June 1, 2016 8:47 am

This kind of technology is not needed. We do not need to worry about our “carbon footprint”; that is an imaginary threat. There is nothing wrong with putting CO2 in the atmosphere, the amount we are adding is insignificant, because CO2 has a limited effect as a greenhouse gas, and is enormously out-weighed in its affect by water vapour. Nor is there any evidence it drives or changes earth’s climate, other than in the first couple hundred ppm, which keeps earth from being colder than it is. What are the natural drivers of climate changes? We know very little about it. There are many variables, many of which we aren’t even aware of yet, let alone understand their interactions in a very complex system. In a couple hundred years we may understand half of it.

Warren Latham
Reply to  hollybirtwistle
June 1, 2016 12:20 pm

Spot on. Entirely spot on !

John Harmsworth
Reply to  hollybirtwistle
June 1, 2016 8:22 pm

“Not needed!” There’s the understatement of the year. Much better than laughing my face off for a week!

Paul of Alexandria
Reply to  hollybirtwistle
June 1, 2016 9:38 pm

“Carbon footprint” is not a particular reason for an SPS and never has been.

June 1, 2016 8:53 am

These proposals call for transmitting power back to the Earth’s surface via a laser or focused microwave beam. Now think about what will happen to any bird or aircraft that wanders into the beam.

Paul of Alexandria
Reply to  MattS
June 1, 2016 9:39 pm

Nothing. You need to look at the beam density, not the total power.

Gary Hladik
June 1, 2016 9:26 am

Why not use the Orion fuel directly in nuclear power plants instead of indirectly, to lift power-producing apparatus into orbit?

June 1, 2016 9:40 am

Renewables are as dead as the Roman Empire. Vestiges of the Roman Empire are on display in many museums world-wide and a few standing structures survive throughout Europe. They are very nice.
I’m stocking up on F (Ford Motor Corp.), KOL (coal ETF) and URA (uranium ETF). The real end of the Renewable Empire (and AGW) will happen the moment Barak Hussein Obama retires from Office at Noon on 20 January 2017.
Ha ha
Sorry Elon Musk THBBFT

William Yarber
June 1, 2016 11:29 am

Discussed this in one of my Aerospace classes in late 60’s. Transmission of energy from space via microwave is extremely hazardous. If beam migrates by just .01 degree, you miss the receiver and fry something else on the ground! Positioning control systems have vastly improved in past 50 years, but they can and will fail. Then you have the problem of something flying in the air intercepting the beam of microwaves: birds, planes, etc. Intensity of microwave bean is sufficient to be lethal to life and damaging to electronics in planes. Not significant problem when everything is aligned (no fly zone, etc), but potentially catastrophic when alignment lost for whatever reason(s).

Paul of Alexandria
Reply to  William Yarber
June 1, 2016 9:40 pm

Discussed, perhaps, but not rationally. 1) the beam is locked onto a beacon, 2) the beam density is very low.

June 1, 2016 11:44 am

Sorry, but how do you stop your solar array becomming a vast solar sail, and disapperaing off to Jupiter?? I have asked this question many times, but not got a reasonable answer.
Arthur C Clarke had a great story about a ‘yacht’ race for the Earth to Jupiter and back, powered by solar sails.

Gunga Din
Reply to  ralfellis
June 1, 2016 1:29 pm

Use all the energy it produces to keep it in place.

Paul of Alexandria
Reply to  ralfellis
June 1, 2016 9:44 pm

It’s in geosynchronous orbit. Don’t forget, during the “day”part of the orbit, the sun will be pushing towards Earth, during the “night” away (that’s referenced to the Earth; the actual,SPS will be constantly illuminated except for occasional eclipses every 6 months or so). The solar pressure won’t be enough to make it leave orbit, although it will have to be taken into,account. If necessary a few ion drives could easily counteract it.

Dr. Deanster
June 1, 2016 2:19 pm

This is not a good idea at all to me.
If a mere increase of 1% or so in cloudiness could reverse all global warming of the last century, I would think that the same would apply for a 1% decrease in incomming solar energy captured by satelite solar panels. AND .. if the panels take up more than 1%, …. presto, you can throw the earth into a permenant ice age … or at least permenant to the point that you remove the satelite solar panels from blocking the incomming energy.
This is a terrible idea!! … but alas, the potential untoward consequences of leftists stupidity will most likely become probable, given the track record of unthinking leftists to implement their stupid ideas based on emotionalism and short sightedness.

Paul of Alexandria
Reply to  Dr. Deanster
June 1, 2016 9:47 pm

The SPS won’t block the sun at all, except for a short period every 6 months or so. And even when it does, even a 10 km long SPS doesn’t subtend much at 22,000 miles!

Michael J. Dunn
Reply to  Paul of Alexandria
June 2, 2016 2:25 pm

I.e., the SPS won’t block the sun at all (to within an immeasurable difference from 100%). It could only occult the sun when the sun crosses the equatorial plane at the equinoxes, and it would be like a fly crossing the aperture of a searchlight.

June 1, 2016 3:40 pm

I wonder how the fallout would compare to the current damage they’re inflicting on the environment with lithium battery production for all their “green” hybrid and electric cars…

June 1, 2016 4:17 pm

I wish those here spreading misinformation about space solar power would read Gerry O’Neill’s book on the subject “The High Frontier” before commenting.
Most of what has been posted here is garbage or just plain wrong.
SSPS probably isn’t currently economic but there are ways of leveraging mass delivered to Earth orbit which don’t involve Project Orion (as much as I would like to see that go ahead even though it won’t be the ground launch version).
Interestingly the proposal was predicated on resource shortages and pollution concerns which have not eventuated in the last 40 years.
IIRC it was also thought at the time that there was no water on the Moon. I’m betting where there is water (as seems to have been shown) there is also oil, or anyway black tarry stuff containing carbon and hydrogen. All useful.

Paul of Alexandria
Reply to  Mike Borgelt
June 1, 2016 9:48 pm

Has anyone noticed that the Chinese are planning a lunar colony? I’m thinking that scientific uses are not all that they have in mind.

June 2, 2016 12:18 am

The answer to the problem of launch costs is simple – don’t launch ! Most of what is needed for a structure of this kind can be manufactured fairly easily in orbit, given the raw materials, and there’s no shortage of those in space, on the Moon and on near-Earth asteroids. The cost of moving material from the Moon to Earth orbit, for example, is a small fraction of the Earth to Earth orbit cost.
Having said this, I rather doubt that projects of this kind will be viable purely to send power back to Earth. They would certainly be attractive, however, to provide power to other orbiting structures, once space-based industry starts to take off, which will be sooner than most people realise. It’s then quite possible that it will prove profitable to sell any surplus power to ground-based facilities.

June 2, 2016 12:34 am

My favorite Energy Problem Solving Idea is like this:
– Install a long power cable around the equator an connect it to solar panels near it.
– You allways will have Solar Power on the cable, as the sun shines on them more than 50% of the day
– make links for cables going to north and south to any place with renewables or need of electric power
– additionally you can put numbers of windmills in the pacific to catch the westerlies
(possibly this may slow down el Nino effects)
Sure a bit epensive, but
better and lots cheaper to install stuff floating on the ocean than in the sky.
One big advantage: for orienttion, equator christening, and in case of an emergency ships and planes will now easily find the equator and can go to the equator cable to get rescued from there…
And if you put enough panels near the equator, it can be seen from space as well. An nice new picture for us and all the aliens…

June 2, 2016 6:50 am

“…and focus its beam toward a …rectenna…”
So will the rectenna be built in a real sh!thole? You know, the sort of place described as the ‘arse end of the world’?
And are the guys who service the rectenna going to be called ‘proctolonicians’?
…You couldn’t make this stuff up.

Michael J. Dunn
Reply to  Erny72
June 2, 2016 2:20 pm

Short for “rectifier-antenna.” I guess it all depends on whether you know what you’re talking about.

June 3, 2016 10:01 am

Short version shown at the White House April 20 this year on how to end the use of fossil fuels.

Long version going into the conceptual details about how to get the LEO to higher orbits cost down.
If you want to keep up with this, there is a Google group power satellite economics.
I am as biased toward using lunar or asteroid materials as you can find. (One of the L5 Society founders and a big fan of GK O’Neill.) But it takes so long and cost so much to set up the space industry that the economics just fails to work. 🙁 Power satellites built from the ground look like they would take a third as long to become profitable and the startup cost would be 1/10th the cost O’Neill proposed. But they take really close attention to the lift cost, not just to LEO but all the way out to GEO.
Still, if I had to guess, perhaps the first third to half of them will be built from the ground, and the rest from asteroids or the moon.

June 5, 2016 12:03 pm

With the 70’s gas crisis, our physics class did some rough estimation of power balance by adding additional energy to the planet from space. Our analysis, from what we knew at the time, ended up adding more energy will just make the planet warmer, because the satellites will make a bigger earth solar footprint. Yes, more energy will be sent back into space, but the energy expended will add to the heat, as if the sun produced more energy.
We also did some theorizing of placing a large quantity of solar power stations (thermal and PV) and shipping the energy out of the area. Wouldn’t that contribute to climate change in the local power station area? Perhaps making for more clouds and less power output?
One other consideration, the energy beam from space might make for one interesting weapon.