Humanity’s demand for energy is growing at an astonishing rate. Combine this with an ever-dwindling supply of fossil fuels, and it becomes painfully clear that something innovative and powerful is required. There’s one high-tech proposal that holds tremendous promise — an idea that has been around since the late 1960s. Here’s how space-based solar power will eventually solve all our energy needs.
Humans needs more power
Assuming that economic progress and globalization continues at its current pace, we’ll need to produce twice the amount of energy that’s consumed today by the 2030s — what will reach a monumental 220 trillion kiloWatt hours per year. And by the end of the century, we’ll need four times the current rate of consumption.
Just as importantly, we’re also going to have to kick the fossil fuel habit — and not only because it’ll eventually run out. Rising CO2 emissions are wreaking havoc on the Earth’s atmosphere, what’s creating environmentally deleterious side-effects at a rate faster than expected.
Moreover, if greenhouse gases are to be brought under control over the course of the next several decades, we’ll need to get upwards of 90% of all our energy from either renewable or nuclear sources.
While there are a number of proposals on the table for how we might be able to meet these challenges, none really appear to be truly viable.
Except for solar powered satellites.
A closer look at a space-based solution yields a lengthy list of advantages.
Solar powered satellites don’t produce any greenhouse gases, nor do they take up valuable real estate on Earth. Once the initial costs are met, they would be relatively cheap to maintain; the solar modules used for generating solar energy have a long service life, not to mention the astounding ROI that would come from a virtually unlimited energy source.
Additionally, they’re not constrained by night/day cycles, the weather, or the changing seasons. And indeed, they would be much more efficient than any kind of ground-based station. The collection of solar energy in space is seven times greater per unit area than on the surface of the planet. Moreover, the amount of solar energy available up there is staggering — on the order of billions of times greater than what we draw today; the Earth receives only one part in 2.3 billion of the Sun’s output. The potential for scalability is enormous, to say the least.
Solar powered satellites won’t be prone to terrorist attacks and they’ll reduce geopolitical pressure for oil. According to futurist Keith Henson, space-based solar could be used to power vehicles, like electric cars, or by enabling the production of synthetic fuels — which at a penny per kiloWatt hour would result in gasoline that costs one dollar a gallon.
At the same time, space-based solar would provide true energy independence for those nations who choose to implement it. And on top of that, the energy could be exported to virtually anywhere in the world; it would be especially valuable for isolated areas of the globe, including Africa and India.
Lastly, space-based solar power would also yield tremendous benefits to human and robotic space exploration, including the powering of off-planet colonies on the Moon, Mars, and space stations. It could also serve as the first seed in the development of a Dyson Sphere — a massive array of solar collectors that would completely envelope the sun at a distance of about 1 AU.
See on io9.com