The Ashes

Technology, Science and other news
May 10, 2009

Sci-Fi Meets Cleantech: Space Based Solar Energy Becomes a Reality

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Filed under : General

Like something straight out of a science fiction novel, renewable energy company SolarEn plans to launch solar panel arrays into space to capture the rawest form of solar energy and send it back down to earth.

solar_panel_satelliteSolar energy innovations have been brewing across the board the past couple of decades; but it’s recently been made known this week that solar technology company, SolarEn, has struck an agreement with California’s Pacific Gas and Electric company to achieve something new and dynamic within the renewable energy industry. SolarEn has come up the zealous goal of launching solar panel laden satellites into orbit that will then capture the rawest forms of solar radiation from more than 22,000 miles above the Earth.

Transporting the solar technology itself into space can be done utilizing existing rocket technologies, but it’s transferring the energy back into power grids on earth that really seems like the most intriguing part of all of this.

SolarEn expects to start beaming down electricity to earth by 2016.

The company plans to convert the captured solar energy into radio frequencies that would then be sent back to earth. This sounds like the kind of stuff we’d see in the science-fiction world, but this fantasy is steadily turning into a reality. Marking the first real attempt at tapping into the ceaseless potential energy stream in space that the sun provides, SolarEn plans to initially provide 200MW of electricity to Pacific Gas and Electric utilizing their new method.

Although not exactly a new concept, sending solar energy technology into space this time around has a lot more promise. Plans by the US Government to achieve the same thing have been undertaken by NASA and the Pentagon as early as the 1960’s. Critics cite the costly nature of sending the satellites into space; but SolarEn ensures that their technology is commercially viable unlike any previous endeavors trying to achieve the same thing.


Here's a diagram that illustrates the basic concept of the proposed space based solar array. SolarEn also cites the higher energy potential of the raw solar energy available in space, noted by the color intensity of the orange.

Another top concern that SolarEn must engage in is the perception that the RF signals transferring the solar energy could interfere or adversely affect things here on the surface. SolarEn’s founder, Gary Spirnak, explained that the technology they’re going to use has been developed and implemented through other communication satellites. The near constant stream of energy traveling back to Earth by way of RF signal won’t present any cause for worry, Spirnak assured. Spirnak went on to explain that humans won’t be affected and that planes could fly through the signals without a hitch.

The sheer energy generation potential that lies in space could very well be where solar energy needs to make its future.

It’s estimated that the raw, unfiltered solar radiation from the sun provides nearly ten times the energy compared to the sun’s rays that current technologies capture. SolarEn’s agreement with the PG&E is currently pending review by regulators from the California State Government; it’s likely this proposal’s purported technological feasibility is a reason that it might actually stick.

But, as with any daunting renewable energy project, it all comes down to funding. The average renewable energy project of this magnitude would ordinarily cost somewhere around $200m, but because of the technology, Solaren expects that it would need funding within the range of a few billion to get this project off of the ground.

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