Solar Power in Outer Space
Here's an inspirational one for a Monday. Scientists are talking about the possibility of generating solar power in space. Pretty cool, but for now every day sees solar get more viable here on earth, so while the future is looking bright, we don't have to wait for solar. An excerpt:
Some scientists think humans could get clean power collected from solar panels in space and beamed back down to Earth in our lifetime. Not only would the energy source be continuous, it would also be clean and unlimited. The only thing standing in the way is the astronomical cost.
But that’s finally changing, and space-based solar power entrepreneurs are starting to see interest from private investors and potential customers.
Roof solar panels on buildings convert sunlight into energy during the daytime. Which is great, but Earth-based solar panels have big drawbacks. They don’t work at night or if the sky is too cloudy. Plus, our atmosphere shields the Earth’s surface from much of the sun’s energy — bouncing some of the light back into space.
Now imagine if we could put a solar panel in Earth orbit — around 22,000 miles up.
“If you put the solar panel in space, it’s going to be illuminated 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 99% of the year,” Paul Jaffe, a spacecraft engineer at the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory, said.
At 22,000 miles above the Earth, the sun is much brighter, so space-based solar panels could collect way more solar energy. They’d deliver up to 40 times the annual amount of reliable 24/7 energy that the same cell would generate on the Earth.
Scientists are calling the technology “stellar energy,” because it would return so much more power than regular Earth-based solar energy.
Jaffe predicts that individual space-based solar arrays would be able to produce from 250 megawatts to 5 gigawatts of energy. But since the sun is a continuous, renewable resource the “total amount of power that could be produced is effectively infinite,” he says.
And 250 megawatts is a ton of energy New York City, for example, which requires 20 gigawatts of power. By Jaffe’s calculation, as few as four arrays [see picture below] — if each provided 5 gigawatts — would be able to power the entire city.