Solar energy from space may power futureIn order to provide sustainable energy for the expected 10 billion global population by the year 2050, new breakthrough energy concepts must be implemented. Beaming electricity from space-based power systems could provide the solution as well as brighten our environmental outlook.
The Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) says that solar energy from space could supply a 2050 world population of 10 billion people with enough energy to meet all basic human needs at low cost, and with few, if any, of the environmental downsides of other energy alternatives. "Solving the 'trilemma' of population growth, resource consumption and environmental cost, and providing a sustainable global supply of electricity will require some 'outside the box' thinking," said EPRI president and CEO Kurt Yeager. "To look beyond the planet for a solutions is indeed thinking outside the box."
EPRI's latest journal issue, Roadmap, says that photovoltaic (PV) arrays in stationary Earth orbit at an altitude of 22,300 miles would receive eight times as much sunlight as they would at the Earth's surface. Space arrays would also be unaffected by Earth's day-night cycle, cloud cover or atmospheric dust.
The idea of beaming solar power from space was first proposed more than 30 years ago and PV technology has steadily been growing with current applications used to power billboard lighting, construction warning lights, utility switches and telecommunications gear. Developments in recent years in electronics, power generation and robotics, in conjunction with a perceived need for an alternative energy source, have led to the latest push in solar power.
Scientists have envisioned that building solar collectors on the moon will ultimately provide an elegant solution to launching the heavy mass of satellite components into orbit. The lunar soil could provide silicon to build solar arrays and metals such as iron and aluminum for support structures and electrical wiring. David Criswell, director of the Institute for Space Systems Operations at the University of Houston, says, "The moon's environment is extremely dry and there is absolutely no weather. All the things that make solar energy difficult on the Earth are absent on the moon."
"Whether solar power satellites or lunar solar power bases will eventually come to pass remains to be seen," says EPRI's Kurt Yeager. The costs of PV technology must come down while efficiency must simultaneously improve. Under the best of conditions, grid-delivered PV power is still expected to be more costly than electricity generated by traditional fossil fuels.
EPRI researchers believe that by 2050, photovoltaics will be a significant contributor to worldwide power, but that the surest route to cost-effective solar power is not increasing the use of current technology but increasing support for improved research and development.
For more information visit the EPRI Web site at www.epri.com.