Darel Preble's Space Solar Power Workshop is a roundtable of experts in the field, most of whom are academics, military people or civil servants. He wrote a carefully researched and well-thought-out essay in response to my inquiry about Solaren. In it Preble makes the following points:
(1) Solaren CEO Gary Spirnak told Preble that researchers at UC Santa Barbara could supply Solaren with the right equipment to convert electricity into microwaves and transmit the microwaves to Earth: 90% efficient solid state amplifiers at 2.5 to 35 Gigahertz frequencies. However, these amplifiers aren't available anywhere for sale. Preble contacted the Applied Electromagnetics Lab at HRL Laboratories in Malibu, which conducts cutting edge research on solid state amplifiers, and his contacts there are currently working on developing them, but don't know any one who has been successful at it.
(2) Even if these super-efficient solid state amplifiers were to become available in the next few years, Solaren would need to install so many, and such large quantities of energy would be lost as heat when converting sunlight to electricity and electricity to microwaves, that the power plant could have severe problems with overheating. The equipment, (which is at 22,000 Miles above the earth, by the way) could quickly "exceed operating temperature limits for microwave devices."
(3) In the event that the amplifiers are produced, and they're outfitted with state-of-the-art cooling mechanisms, Solaren would still need to rely on frequent heavy-lift rocket launches to build a 200-MW plant in space. Solaren claims to be able to do this in 4 to 5 launches, but Preble is not convinced this will be possible.
(4). The Space Solar Power Workshop has proposed to the Obama administration that they set up a new government-funded "Sunsat Corporation" -- with a budget in the realm of $20 billion -- to build the necessary infrastructure for solar power satellites. The model for this would be Comsat, a government agency set up by the Kennedy Administration in the early 1960s that enabled today's dense network of communications satellites. A new government entity could also create the necessary demand for frequent rocket launches.
The actual response is below.
As you asked, I have examined Solaren's statements, plans, and patent, for their plan to use microwave to deliver their 200 Megawatts in 2016 in a solid state "sandwich" free flyer (similar to the NASA's Modular Symmetrical Concentrator and Japan's Institute for Unmanned Space Experiment Free Flyer (USEF) consortium's satellite design) and talked with a variety of researchers.
I talked with Gary Spirnak, CEO at Solaren for an hour Tuesday May 18. He stated that they plan to use 90% efficient class-F power amplifiers (which is not currently available for the GHz frequencies needed from any sources I could find, that becomes even more true when you include high power and high reliability) and 42% efficient PV from Spectralab (which is not currently available beyond their lab). Spirnak indicated UC Santa Barbara researchers could provide these, which led me to Bob York, who has worked for UCSB in this area and whom I have asked for further comments from (but not heard back from yet). I was also able talk with some folks at HRL who have worked with Bob York on high power amplifiers and Paul Jaffe at Naval research Labs who is starting a space project that he hopes to use the best available solid state amplifiers for.
As background, Christopher. Briefly, there are two general ways to wirelessly bring power (WPT) from GEO (or even lower orbits if you can tolerate the intermittent nature of other "lesser" orbits) to earth - laser and microwave. Laser WPT (300 Terahertz or 1 micron wavelength, for example) is the youngest and least well understood or demonstrated. Laser would offer the capability of smaller power downlinks such as 1 megawatt and is making significant progress. Astrium with the University of Surrey is the best known SSP player in that game. Cooling problems resulting from low laser efficiency are a basic problem.
Microwave, on the other hand, (2.45 - 35 GHz, for example) has been fairly well demonstrated many times in small experiments, but it suffers from the Fresnel requirements which dictate very high power levels ( ~ Gigawatt) to achieve the high power transfer efficiency necessary for economic, or profitable, operation. These requirements are necessitated by the large diameter (or aperture) antennas required by those equations to achieve desired high efficiency. (E.g. millions of high efficiency low cost schottky diodes, filters; supports, lightning protection, aeolian damping, etc.)
Microwave primarily needs work to massively upscale from the low power levels currently in use for WPT. Kyoto University is the leading (now government funded) research center in that area that I am aware of. To transfer many Megawatts or Gigawatts from high orbit very large rectenna ~2.1 miles (3.4 km ) and transmitting antenna (~1. km) diameters (apertures) are needed to meet the dictates of the physics equations to provide the high efficiency necessary to bring the power down cost effectively (5.8 GHz is assumed, as indicated by the physics for those apertures, although Gary would not state the frequency, he says their "receiving antenna", which is a term he says investors like better than "rectenna", would be 2 square miles.) That implies many millions of schottky diodes, filters and associated electronics for example, even using focussing techniques such as HRL's patent 7,456,803 "Large Aperture Rectenna Based on Planar Lens Structures". Solaren is searching for "billions" in backing, which is no surprise - a reliable rectenna alone could easily cost $1 Billion to design and build, not counting the land underneath, and not counting the space segment ...
Talking with our friend Kai Chang, he was unfamiliar with such a high efficiency device near frequencies of interest (2.5-35 GHz). HRL folks say that a single amp could exceed 80%, but not at GHz ratings and most certainly not considering the thermal issues arise when you want to build huge high reliability phased arrays to achive the high power density Solaren proposes. In short, to deliver 200 MW (to PG&E) with such a microwave transmitter array sounds like an exceedingly challenging endeavor (one engineer even used the word impossible) and very high risk research to me. We would be glad to learn otherwise, as would Solaren, but "that's the fact, Jack" ...
The sandwich module - PV on top directly connected output to solid state power amplifier and transmission array - has formidable thermal challenges. In Solaren's solar concentrator system, conversion inefficiencies and the resultant high temperatures would rapidly exceed the operating temperature limits for microwave devices, unless major breakthroughs can be achieved in reliable cooling of this immense transmitter array. It is intended to operate in a solar concentrator system, but conversion inefficiencies and the resultant high temperatures may exceed the operating temperature limits for microwave devices. See also the NRL SSP report, page 18
Solaren plans to use existing heavy lift launch vehicles, such as United Launch Alliance has, highlighting the significant cost to orbit issues diminishing the likelihood of profitable operation. (Spirnak says bigger rockets are cheaper rockets - actually cheaper space flight is governed primarily by high flight rate, a key problem many have identified for SSP.) Solving these and other problems in time to meet a 2016 deadline makes timely delivery highly unlikely even with a $5 Billion budget as they would certainly like to obtain. Failing to meet the deadline incurs significant failure to perform penalties, as Solaren has noted.
We wish Solaren the best of luck.
There are a half dozen other US connected companies from Heliosat and Powersat to Lockmart working at some (poorly funded) level to build SSP. The Space Solar Power Workshop has also been educating folks about the importance of actually building SSP. In our opinion, the best and fastest path to the massive benefits SSP offers, is for Congress to charter a public/private corporation - we call it Sunsat Corporation - to build a power satellite industry, as Kennedy did with Comsat, which effectively built today's hugely successful communications satellite industry. This would provide maximum financial and technical horsepower to this extremely challenging task eventually building a power satellite industry, as Comsat built our communications satellite industry.
Notably, Japan, has provided the USEF consortium with a $21 Billion budget. A Sunsat Corporation would provide the most realistic path for SSP to meet our technical, financial, and political energy imperative - to address the US and the world's urgent energy security needs. Only a Sunsat Corp could finance the space flight market revolution needed to lower the cost of space access by being able to write the large checks needed to greatly increase the flight rate.
Solaren hopes to avoid expensive litigation and regulatory work in CA, nationally, and internationally for the satellite slot. Spirnak states that the FCC will be the only regulatory work needed for the space segment, such as interfacing the ITU or neighboring slot holders. That is unlikely in my understanding of the satellite industry and my experience in the utility industry. Environmental impact studies, hearings, etc., will be among the efforts on the ground regulatory segment. Typically competing energy providers will find ways to encourage expensive rocks in Solaren's path, assuming Solaren itself isn't its own worst enemy, as sometimes happens.
We can hope that difficulties will be minimized by SSP's glowing advantages in these times of rising energy costs and related economic problems, however the very profitable energy industry - the competition typically views SSP as a threat. SSP is clearly doable at a price - microwave technology is a generally well-known and well-developed industrial and commercial tool - but not without financial hazard for the first SSP provider. Another reason why we need a very strong champion, such as Sunsat Corp, to weather the hail of arrows that greet any pioneer that may not choose the best path first.
The Space Solar Power Workshop finds it highly unlikely that Solaren can overcome these difficulties in the timeframe they are committed to, using their stated, patented, satellite design features.
chair, Space Solar Power WorkshopPosted by Christopher Davidson on 05/26/10
Space-based solar power -- a power plant in space that would capture sunlight and transmit its energy down to Earth's electrical grids -- is technically feasible today -- just barely. Sometime soon, but definitely not before 2015 or so, it could become a sensible business proposition. Much will depend on the business model and the company that tries to build it. In the long run, if SSP becomes widely accepted, it could become a once-in-a-lifetime disruptive technology that helps slow down global warming, transform the world's energy landscape and help end our 100-year love affair with fossil fuels. Here's hoping.
I've continued to solicit the views of experts in renewable energy and aerospace, including one private firm that is already building solar panels for spacecraft and satellites. There is an emerging consensus that space-based solar power is potentially an important source of energy in the near future (within five to ten years), but it's not ready for commercialization right now. What's holding it back? Two factors primarily: the high costs of launching heavy equipment into geosynchronous orbit, which makes SSP a risky and absurdly expensive enterprise, and second a general lack of public awareness that sunlight in space could even be considered as a source of renewable energy on Earth. Thus, the success of SSP appears to depend on launch costs coming down by a factor of 10 to 100, so that it costs not $10,000 but $100 to $1,000 to launch a kilogram of equipment into orbit, and frequent enough launches to build a large infrastructure in space over two to three years (rather than the 10-15 years it has taken to build the ISS), and finally a public relations campaign.
From Joe Verrengia at the National Renewable Energy Labratory:
The NREL doesn't have specific expertise on space-based solar power. We have expertise in the kinds if solar cells used on spacecraft, but not in the technology that might be required to deliver the power down to Earth. Once it gets to Earth, our expertise in renewable energy integration might come into play again. This is partly because no companies who are interested in the technology have approached us yet asking to form a partnership. Generally, we work with companies that are closer than Solaren, and other SBSP companies, to bringing online their new energy products, such as thin-film solar cells. We have worked with cutting solar cell companies like Emcore; we've invented ultralight, ultra-efficient solar panels for use on satellites in space. However, a space-based solar power plant that beams power down to earth is too far in the future for us.
From Brian Gibson, Senior Director of Business Development at EMCORE, a manufacturer of solar panels for use on spacecraft and satellites
Space-based solar power is being reviewed by several companies in the United States, Japan, Russia and China. The cost will depend upon the design. Our belief is this concept is feasible, yet still several years away from being implemented and cost justifiable.
From John Mankins, an aerospace consultant, former NASA scientist and internationally recognized expert on space-based solar power:
Your question is phrased in a very interesting way. Let me answer as follows:
"A solar power satellite in geosynchronous Earth orbit (GEO) is certainly feasible from a technical standpoint. There are no fundamental 'showstoppers'; no breakthroughs in physics required. The key questions concern (1) timing and (2) economic viability. Solar power satellites (SPS) will be enormous machines in space -- far larger than any system ever launched -- and it will take time and money to set in place the industrial capacity to realize them. Building solar power satellites that make money -- that are economically viable -- will require the right combination of system designs, component technologies, manufacturing, and engineering. These combinations don't exist today. They almost certainly could exist in 10 years or more -- with the right decisions and investments; they almost certainly could not exist in 5 years or less, even with enormous amounts of money."
That is a long quotation; however, that is my opinion. I hope that is what you had in mind. Please use it as written, or don't use it...
From Laura Wisland, Renewable Energy Specialist at the Union of Concerned Scientists:
You have to consider whether there is a public health impact associated with transmitting the power from space, and where the investment is going. Would we be making a mistake sinking billions into a technology we don't fully understand when there is lower hanging fruit?
On the other hand, all renewable energy was unproven at one time, and many forms of renewables which were pipe dreams at one time became a reality because of private investment. So it's important to encourage research and development into every new source, including space-based solar power. The prospect of vast amounts of solar energy beamed from space is definitely tantalizing.Posted by Christopher Davidson on 05/22/10
Connecticut financier John Vornle, president of Long Term Capital Company, believes that institutional investors will support the buildout of space-based solar power plants. He's not sure, however, that Solaren has the right business model. Utilities like PG&E aren't ideal customers, because SSP is a disruptive technology that could eventually put them out of business.
I sent Vornle my interpretation of comments he made in January 2010 on a radio show called "The Space Show," with David Livingston. This is his response.
The essential message I attempt to communicate, taken from a private PowerPoint slide, is:
US public policy should facilitate the process by which private sector funds find individual projects that promote Space based development & exploration and these funds should be allowed to earn large potential profits.
US Public policy should motivate private capital markets by using thoughtfully delivered collateralized contingent commitments without requiring cash outlays by Congress today, or in the future.
(e.g.: 1) A fully contingent take-or-pay power purchase contract for electricity delivered from Space to a small corporation with accepted bylaws; 2) Support in the form of Construction Completion Surety Bonds.)
US Public Policy should Limit government commitments to only those items that the Private Market won’t supply:
(e.g.: 1) Payload delivery at a maximum price and for a minimum weight and size quantity for a minimum number of years; 2) Technology support and guidance as requested, but not management or direction (… the NACA model, with vigorous DoD participation); 3) EELV launch support (by USAF); 4) Emergency rescue crews.)
[Role of Government: 1) … in operations, similar to FAA role in commercial aviation and NORAD in national security; 2)… in finance, similar to a “contingent anchor tenant.” ]
You're the first person who's called me to ask about space-based solar power, so I did a bit of research. It's an interesting concept, but nobody I know at NREL is currently doing any work on it. We collaborate closely with private industry to help develop new renewable energy products, like thin-film solar cells, and bring them to market. For example, two years ago we partnered with Emcore, Inc. to develop ultra-light, ultra-efficient solar panels for use on satellites in space. The Mars Rover uses a solar panel we developed with Emcore.
An entire solar power plant in space, however, is too far in the future; it's outside the scope of our mission.
NOTES FROM INTERVIEW WITH GARY SPIRNAK ON
WEDNESDAY, MAY 12 2010
BACKGROUND Solaren has Eight to 10 employees in March 2010, 100 by December 2010. People and talent here in Southern California are in such abundance that we can't believe it. In 5 years we expect to have hired between 800 and 1000 people. We talked to lots of people in the federal government, but our project crosses traditional disciplinary lines, so no one in the government has any responsibility for it. NASA does space but not energy; DOE does energy but not space. But even if the government doesn't work with us, the private sector can supply everything we need. What the United States spends on space is GARGANTUAN compared to other countries -- the capabilities and skills are here.We started out with seed money from friends and family.
We're now raising funds from accredited private investors (SEC) who have real money, and it's going well. We'll raise a billion dollars over the next 12 months, and a lot more after that, but we can't reveal investor information without permission.
You'll see some things over the summer that will boost confidence among aerospace people. I can't get into it now, but we're confident.WHAT KIND OF COMPANY WE ARE
1. Private enterprise that wants to make a profit:
We get lots of invitations to conferences, where people want us to tell them what we're doing, but we don't want to tell what our exact designs are because those could become available to potential competitors (mostly in other countries). Space solar power has been in the realm of academia -- conferences -- and that's been great, but we want to t urn this now into a viable business. Our competitors are not the United States -- but we don't want to lose our national advantage. Our team has between 20 and 45 years of experience per person, and while there are a lot of people around the world working in aerospace now, no one has anywhere near the depth of engineering experience we have -- maybe in ten years.
2. Driven by green energy incentives -- Investment Tax Credit. We wanted to start a solid business, and since it's energy, it's inherently BIG business. Can't think small or it won't work. And we wanted to make ourselves look as normal and mundane as possible. We'll be spending billions of dollars over the next few years, so we HAVE to be boring. Hard-nosed investors are afraid of aerospace, because they want to know, "Can you pay your next annuity?" Generally, the major client for aerospace has been the government, and its routine to have costs overrun by 2 and 3 times, and to get the investment schedule doubled and tripled. If large investors are going to invest money, they need to know "What's my return?"
3 . Didn't want a niche market like nuclear energy, or earth-based solar -- our market is BASELOAD POWER -- 80%. In 10 or 20 years we could have 15% of the US energy market.
We're building a culture where you're responsible for budget and engineering, a responsible team that maintains its focus. We do development and operations, but 95 to 99% of our manufacturing will be outsourced. The exciting thing about this is that it's a real market -- it's a green thing AND a cool space gig that makes money.We chose to transmit solar energy using low-energy density microwaves rather than lasers because lasers don't travel well through clouds, so they would give bad quality service. At geosynchronous orbit, solar panels collect 8 times as much energy as they do on Earth because the sun shines at the equivalent of noon, on a sunny day at the equator, 24 hours a day and 7 days a week, without any loss from the atmosphere. The energy we collect gets converted by the power satellite into electricity, and from electricity into microwaves. The satellite then transmits the microwaves down to Earth. At their peak power, the microwaves will reach 16 milliwatts per square centimeter, which is about 1/6 the strength of sunlight at noon (100 milliwatts/cm2), and poses no discernible safety risk to humans. If you were bathed in these microwaves, you'd just feel a bit warm. Even so, the microwaves will travel to a fenced-off inaccessible rural area of 2 square miles that's outfitted with ground receivers. When they hit the receivers, they'll be converted back into electricity. Microwaves are made of traveling photons of light, the same "stuff" as gamma rays, x-rays, UV light, infrared light, radio waves, and so forth, and they travel at the speed of light. However, at 16 milliwatts/cm2 they are not dangerous because they travel in wavelengths that are much longer, and less frequent, than infrared light or the microwaves in your oven. The microwaves contain energy in a form that does no damage to the human body. WHY WE CAN DO WHAT NOBODY'S DONE BEFORE
Only the US aerospace industry has this capability. We've certainly taken advantage of government R&D on solar cells, expendable heavy lift rockets to LEO, but we're not affected by the controversy over Constellation. We felt that the technology was close enough to make this happen, but we agreed at the outset "if we can't be competitive, we'll walk away." WE've been careful to use current rocket technology as our basis for planning. Ares 5, the rocket that was in development until the change of direction at NASA, wouldn't have helped us. Right now, the rockets being developed by SpaceX and Orbital Technologies are too small. Minimum -- EELV Heavy, Atlas 5, 28 to 30,000 KM into GEO, 50,000 pounds -- have to fit into the payload capacity of a Boeing or Lockheed rocket
At the end of the day we've got to buy things off these guys -- over the next years we'll have some confidence building measures. Lots of people talk to them about a lot of stuff, but in the end they don't buy. We'll buy. If you buy stuff, they'll believe you. We don't want to reinvent the aerospace industry -- don't have the time or the money for that. But utilities - energy -- are a $1 trillion industry, and they build nuclear plants, coal plants. Not trying to convince any one to take rides in space -- there's an existing market which we're tapping into.
A lot of the utility industry -- building machines to get power out of the ground, out of the earth. Nuclear plants, coal plants. We'll take chunks of that industry and put it into aerospace. What we're doing is different than what a utility usually does.HOW WE'LL RAISE MONEY
Many of our investors are from outside the United States. (not China) and during the ISDC conference, I'll be out of the country meeting with investors. Money always comes first.
Our patents have come through -- China, Japan, India, Europe, the United States
People tend to do what they know how to do, so we presented this to the utility industry as a power purchase agreement. But we do have a contract, and we have to honor that contract. Wanted to look as normal as possible.
Just got pre-certification from the CEC (California Energy Commission) as part of a renewable portfolio standard, which will need to hit 30% of the state's energy production by (year?...) generated by renewable resourcesPHASES OF DEVELOPMENT
PG&E has their executives in charge of renewable, nuclear, etc. But I can guarantee that none of them know the first thing about space. We have to show people that we can put things up in orbit at the costs we're promising.
We're not really trying new things. We're trying big things. Today's satellites generate on the order of kilowatts of power, but we need to generate megawatts. It needs to be engineered and packaged differently.
Since we have real live contracts, we need to know the real costs. Marty Hoffert in New York is an advocate for lasers transmitting energy from the satellites, and in theory it would make sense, because you need a small rectenna-- a few meters squared -- to capture the energy, whereas with radio waves you need several square kilometers. The problem is that lasers don't transmit light through clouds, whereas low frequency radio waves do. Lasers are 10% efficient from space, and radio frequencies are 85% efficient. We looked into it a couple of years ago and decided to go with radio because it made more economic sense.It's not that it can't be done, it 's just that nobody's needed to do it before. And it will take a few years to complete testing.
We're the first ones in the world to have it done -- still on track to hire 100 people by end of year, we'll become a major customer of the aerospace industry.Building a culture where you're responsible for engineering and budget Don't have to disassemble, just fly replacement parts -- HOW IT WILL WORK
and engineering -- this summer we're working on lab testing, pulling together lab stuff -- solar simulator, transport light across a room and convert it into radio waves...components to subsystems to systems
We may use solar panels produced by Spectrolabs in Sylmar. Part of what we'll work with suppliers to determine is how best to capture the sunlight -- through inflatable mirrors? traditional umbrella system?Launch in 2014 - 200 Megawatt pilot plant
Breaking down our work into phases, although they overlap. There's a ground testing phase -- then a space testing phase -- then production. There's a lot of items that you need to build and buy. We have to raise a lot of money to do this. And there's a certain business profile we're running with. Produce revenue over time == 25 years. This isn't project finance, it's investing in a whole new line of business.
6. Satellites have solar panels which transmit power to 2-square mile receiver in Fresno, with 100s of meters of antenna -- We'll start by building a megawatt of power -- test, finish our design, get a power plant up and running by 2016-- building them a lot bigger than existing satellites, a certain flux per square meter --
Lab testing in ground first, then space. Space is unforgiving. When we launch the satellites, we put them in an approximate location. Then using commands on the ground, we get them to the right location. As the satellites find each other, we bring them together by optical commands -- until they're locked into each other with a radar -- There's also a backup system.Solar arrays -- solid state power amplifiers --) microwaves --) electricity WHEN WE'LL BE ONLINE
System requirements will be completed in next couple of years, and we're looking at the first launch (test launching) in late 2013. We'll need to buy rockets.
Talking to Boeing, Lockheed, Aerion Space, SpaceX -- want to foster competition and bring prices down by spreading our business around -- want more than one provider
We've budgeted for today's launch costs -- costs we've seen currently -- long-term we'll want less expensive rockets. Lots of heavy lift rockets, consistently launched. Right now it doesn't happen because the government pays for a standing army to keep rockets ready for launch, but it's the only customer. We'd like the cost of launch to get eventually into the low thousands per kilogram.
If we have an IPO in 2016, we'll need to project profits over the following 20 years and work backwards to get the stock price. 2016 IPO would be based on cumulative earnings by 2030-40, profits over the next 20-30 years. If you're investing billions, you want many billions back.
At geostationary orbit, one 1000 MW plant can reach a third of the Earth's surface. Nothing prevents us from sending power all over the world. However, we are a United States company, and what we're doing-- producing -- can ONLY be done here. US aerospace alone has the industrial capability. Other countries want to do it too, but they can't do it, not now anyway, because they don't have the US aerospace industry. We (in the United States) have the chance to be dominant in this industry. It's the aerospace industry's market to lose. We're not asking for investors from aerospace, but only for contracts. We want stuff built to our specific ations.
Once we've built these 1000 MW plants, say 20 to 30 plants, we'll get revenue off of them for the next 30 years -- we can predict the revenues and the costs -- what you have to do with a public offering -- factor value of product and divide it over the years, etc. and bring it back to the present.
Besides building big, we have to think big. 1000 megawatts of power will generate more than $1 billion profit a year. The entire generating capacity of the United States is 1000 gigawatts, and it's projected to grow to 1300 gigawatts by 2030. The market is still growing throughout the world, and we have investors throughout the world.
These are tough things to do -- lots of pitfalls, but we're confident we'll be able to work them out. We're not doing new science, we're not inventing new devices -- just rearranging and enlarging the technology that already exists. 30 to 40 years ago we couldn't have done it because the solar technology wasn't there yet.
If the solar technology improves, we don't have to replace parts, we can just launch new satellites. If you design for the space environment, it's a relatively benign place to be -- if you have primary systems, backup systems, etc.Our business plan is showing investors how we'll get from A to B. I'm not saying some one else can't do what we're doing with lasers -- that's just not what we decided to do. But we have to raise billions of dollars so we went with a proven technology.
The United States has a real opportunity to get a jumpstart on an entire new industry. We can keep building 1000 MW plants, and expand over time, we can probably put as many of them as we want in orbit, and it still won't be enough.It's going to be an exciting year for us. QUOTE FROM AL GLOBUS:
Finally got around to looking at their patent (http://www.google.com/patents?id=YEcVAAAAEBAJ&printsec=abstract&zoom=4&source=gbs_overview_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false), can't believe I didn't do this a long ago.
big elements, solar collection and final power transmission, are thin film and weigh very little. The solar collection is done by a mirror, probably with no more than a few g/m2 for the material. They solved the antenna size problem elegantly -- the transmitter is small and directed at a large mirror, also thin film, so the Earth antenna sees a large thing.
Your interest in pursuing this story has inspired SSI to make a list of trusted references and resources, so we'll be providing that to you shortly. On the other side of the coin, you may want to look into claims by Space Island Group and Welsom Corporation about space solar power business plans.
SSI's leadership concurs with the conclusions of the Pentagon study. It will take government investment into basic infrastructure and technology risk retirement to make space solar power viable. I urge you to read the full report - you can find it here by clicking on the link to Interim Assessment .. http://spacesolarpower.wordpress.com/2007/10/10/sbsp-interim-assessment-release-01-is-published/
This blog, http://spacesolarpower. was set up to provide a public discussion element to the NSSO study headed by Colonel M.V. "Coyote" Smith. If you read all those posts, and all the news links on the del.icio.us feed, you will have a big head start on the research -
Posted by Christopher Davidson on 05/19/10
I am aware of Solaren's effort to supply electric energy to PG&E, but I do not know the details of how they plan to accomplish it. There is no question that it is possible, the issue is the timing of 2016 and the relatively small amount of energy they plan to deliver (200 Megawatts).
Posted by Christopher Davidson on 05/18/10
John Vornle of Long Term Capital is a regular in the "Space Investment" circuit. Here's his comment -- the problem with SSP is that investors don't yet understand it and engineers don't know how to explain it.
The process associated with financing Space Based Solar Power has more critically important and, within their own fields, generally well respected professional dimensions than any other type of project financing I know. It is a difficult task to communicate to the traditional participants as well as to the new participants that need to be induced and invited to contribute to the whole. The vision of a new economic continent operating outside Earth's boundaries needs to be integrated into the Federal public policy debate and thereby into certain States political discussions.
From Laura Wisland, energy analyst at the Union of Concerned Scientists:
You have to look at the public health impact of microwaves beaming down to Earth. You need to look at where investment in the deployment of renewables is going. Would we be making a mistake sinking billions into a technology we don't fully understand when there is lower hanging fruit?
On the other hand, all renewable energy was unproven at one time, and many forms of renewables which were pipe dreams at one time became a reality because of private investment. So it's important to encourage research and development into every new source, including space-based solar power. The prospect of vast amounts of solar energy beamed from space is definitely tantalizing.
Comments from Karen Kramer Shea, who tracked the satellite and launch industries at the Futron Corporation and lives in Washington DC.
Posted by Christopher Davidson on 05/17/10
Karen Cramer Shea May 16, 2010 at 1:37pm
Is Space Solar Power feasible in the next few years?
All the physics and technology are well understood. The technological challenges are all questions of how best to rather than how to. The economics is a much more difficult challenge since all the cost of Space solar power is front loaded capital costs the operating cost once it is constructed in space is minuscule. Also The economics of the power market may cause difficulties. But Solaren may have figured a way around these problems.
The greatest challenge is that the government treats space solar power as science fiction so the entire space solar power effort is purely private. There is no government money for research and development. No government effort to help design and build launch systems with space solar power in mind. No help from the government to obtain the band width for beaming power down. No help from the government to do studies showing microwave power beaming is safe. No regulations dealing with the special case of space solar power satellites.
I am worried that if Solaren succeeds and complies totally with all existing regulations they will be shut down by courts with a restraining order against beaming down power until it is shown to be safe. Even if they have paid for a stack of studies showing its safety showing they will be considered questionable because Solaren paid for them.
We need government involvement and they refuse to even talk about space solar power on a public level. There was recently a call for ideas for what the government should do on the Open Government Ideascale. The Idea of an inter agency was the most popular idea for NASA, DOE and OSTP none of these agencies seems willing to pursue the idea. They balk at simply having a conference on the subject.
I doubt Solaren can succeed without the federal government taking space solar power seriously, regardless of how much money they raise.
Several experts on the subject of Space Solar Power have been willing to share their comments with me, and so far, nobody has said that Solaren's project is impossible -- just that it's very hard and Solaren will need lots of funding to do it. I've also included a link to an episode that covers Space-based Solar Power on a nationally syndicated radio program, "Space Show," with Dr. David Livingston.
Al Globus sits on the board of the National Space Society and is described by the Lifeboat Foundation as a "Senior Research Associate for Human Factors Research and Technology at San Jose State University at NASA Ames Research Center." He is bullish about Solaren.
Globus writes that "The big elements, solar collection and final power transmission, are thin film and weigh very little. The solar collection is done by a mirror, probably with no more than a few g/m2 for the material. They solved the antenna size problem elegantly -- the transmitter is small and directed at a large mirror, also thin film, so the Earth antenna sees a large thing." He believes that Solaren's design is "hard," but "not impossible."
According to aerospace expert Charles Radley, CEO of the Stratowave Corporation AND an advocate for space-based solar power, "It all depends on the parameters of the system they are proposing. The devil is in the details.... For $1 billion I doubt [they can] build a full scale operation system. But it is adequate to build some small scale demonstrators, and to retire most of the technical risks."
Robin Snelson of the Space Studies Institute is more skeptical.
"SSI's leadership concurs with the conclusions of the Pentagon study. It will take government investment into basic infrastructure and technology risk retirement to make space solar power viable. I urge you to read the full report - you can find it here by reading their Interim Assessment. "
There are so many issues related to a project such as this one that I almost don't know where to start. Though I haven't seen their plans for accomplishing this feat, I would like to see several tests conducted to demonstrate the efficiency of the transfer. If they are using a directional antenna without any modifications, I don't see how they can get the 90% efficiency claimed in the article. Rather than waste your time here are my thoughts in bullet form:
*PG&E - They have no downside and can claim that they are supporting alternative and renewable energy projects. It is also at no cost to them.
*Energy Transfer - Unless they are using a process to concentrate the energy, think MASER (Potential Danger to those on the ground from a space based weapons system), then I don't believe they will have anything even close to 90% efficiency.
*Damage to solar cells from Meteorites - The facility will require either robotic or manned facilities to maintain the panels when they are damaged by space debris.
*Geosynchronous Orbit - If they don't change the orientation of the panels by keeping them fixed, then they should be able to generate energy as long as they are not in Earth's shadow. If they can work out the issues, this might be a good idea in the long run.
These are just my thoughts on a Saturday afternoon, now it's back to work on a new proposal for a solar site here in California.
This comment is from Shubber Ali, author of the "Space Cynic" blog and a management consultant in St. Louis, MO:
I was a manager in KPMG's Space & High Tech consulting practice for many years, and worked on a range of space systems from a business/strategy perspective, including Space Station, GPS, remote sensing satellites, various commercial communications satellite projects, the Space Shuttle C (cargo variant that never flew), Venture Star (one of the replacement for the shuttle programs that spent $1b and ended up being canceled because it didn't have a business case, which we tried to tell them before they spent the first dollar), etc. I founded and was lead author of the Space Cynics blog, which i took a hiatus from a few months ago because i frankly became a bit tired of trying to reason with the "kool-aid" drinkers in the space community, including the current crop of space solar power nuts.
That probably gives you a pretty good perspective of my background/feelings on the issue :-)
Solaren's patent can be viewed by the general public at this URL: (http://www.google.com/patents?id=YEcVAAAAEBAJ&printsec=abstract&zoom=4&source=gbs_overview_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false).
This pitch is only a sneak preview. I had a long phone interview with Solaren's CEO, Gary Spirnak, and I'm in the process of gathering expert opinions. Is he for real, or is he a snake oil salesman? I'm not sure yet, but at the moment, I'm leaning in favor. I welcome any and every tip readers can give me.
Posted by Christopher Davidson on 05/16/10