We have heard the arguments against solar power in the past, particularly the one about how much more expensive it is compared to electricity generated by more traditional fossil fuels. Well how does $1 billion per megawatt sound? Since the 1960s the prospect of generating solar energy from space has been on the drawing board but has never been successfully brought to the next level of actually creating a test model.
Space solar is once again out there as a potential feasible, if very expensive, option for creating solar energy on a constant basis. The Japanese government has stated that it is prepared to spend 2 trillion yen to bring a one-gigawatt solar power station into orbit.
The project would involve roughly four kilometers of solar panels and would orbit the Earth approximately 36,000 kilometers away. The power would be transmitted back in a laser beam or microwave.
Some Japanese companies have already signed on to support the concept and will probably be taking part in the supply of materials and innovative expertise.
Space solar sounds as though it has a lot of potential, but there is a real downside to this idea and that’s in the number of houses that can be powered by such a massive undertaking. The power generated would only be enough to power 300,000 homes and at an estimated cost of $21 billion (and we know that’s going to blow out) it makes it some very expensive electricity being proposed.
Nevertheless the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency is aiming to have a system in space by 2030 and will be attempting to launch a test satellite by 2015.
This is not a new idea by any stretch of the imagination with plans being out there undeveloped since the 1960s in the US. In fact, NASA has already put an estimated $80 million into the concept with very little to show for it. We’re now 40 years further down the track and the costs haven’t improved and there is really no indication that they’re likely to either.
Some government estimates put the cost of solar electricity generated by a space solar power plant at $1 billion per megawatt. And people complain about their electricity bills now!
2011 Update : A three year study has been completed under the auspices of the International Academy of Astronautics to determine how feasible a possible space based solar power system could be.