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Outta This World: Japan Firms Seek 1GW Solar Station in Space

space-solar-isasStart your satellite launchers, folks — the solar space race is on. The idea of capturing sunlight with satellite solar arrays in space and beaming electricity down to Earth has gained fresh legs in recent months, and this morning word comes from Japan that the technology has acquired some new boosters. Solar panel maker Mitsubishi Electric Corp and IHI Corp have agreed to join more than a dozen companies developing technology for a 1-gigawatt solar station in space. As Bloomberg reports, the companies expect to invest 2 trillion yen ($21 billion) over four years working on the tech, and hope to have the station generating electricity 30 years from now.

The Japanese space solar project, being led by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency and trade ministry, comes on the heels of announcements from startups including PowerSat, Solaren and Space Energy, which are all working on the technology. But those companies are working with considerably smaller budgets. Eight-year-old PowerSat, for example, has received commitments for some $3 million-$5 million in angel funding, with a first round of venture capital funding in the single-digit millions in the pipeline.

The problem with smaller budgets is that this experimental technology is notoriously expensive. Back in 2007, the U.S. government’s National Security Space Office published a plan to launch a proof-of-concept design within a decade, including an appendix titled “10 Years — 10 Megawatts — $10 billion.”

So part of the challenge for Mitsubishi and its new partners, who are eying an initial launch in 2015 and a “fully operational” station in the 2030s, will be cutting costs. According to Hiroshi Yoshida, CEO of space and defense-policy consulting firm Excalibur KK, quoted in the Bloomberg article, the expense of transporting solar panels more than 22,000 miles above Earth will have to be slashed to “a hundredth of current estimates” in order for the technology to stand a chance at commercial viability.

Is it a moon shot? Probably, at least for the time being. But as California utility PG&E (s PCG) explained when it began seeking approval from state regulators for a 200 MW power purchase agreement with Solaren earlier this year, if a company can make space solar work at an affordable cost and with all the necessary safety standards and permits, “the world of clean energy will never be the same.”

Graphic credit: 10MW-class demonstration solar-power satellite from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency’s Institute of Space and Astronautical Science

35 Responses to “Outta This World: Japan Firms Seek 1GW Solar Station in Space”

  1. It’s not that this had been a “pipe dream” in a technical sense since the technological know-how to collect and beam microwave energy from space has existed for some time now. The main issue for the past several decades has been that the dangers are seen as outweighing the benefits. If the satellite is somehow bumped off course by a few degrees, rather than its powerful microwave beam being received at a receiving station and converted to usable electricity, there’s a chance it would cook areas of countryside and anyone in those areas. There is nothing new about this latest push, it’s still beaming dangerous concentrated energies down from space, and really do you think it’s safe having the ability to zap arbitrary areas of the countryside in the hands of anyone, ever? A gigawatt is a hell of a lot of energy to be throwing about.

  2. benjaminfranklin

    Se habla y mucho de energías limpias y renovables, pero todas tienen problemas de rendimiento y sostenibilidad, cuando no de rentabilidad o peligrosidad. Si hay algo en común en todas ellas es, que el resultado final, conduce a la energía eléctrica.
    Mi intuición me lleva a preguntarme, ¿porque darle tantas vueltas para llegar al mismo sitio?, es decir, ¿porque no coger el toro por los cuernos y dejarnos de tanta parafernalia?
    Me explico, sabemos que un campo magnético produce corriente eléctrica, y también movimiento, y una corriente eléctrica un campo magnético. No estoy descubriendo nada que no se sepa hasta hoy, pero si puedo decir que lo que hoy conocemos en aplicación de los fenómenos electromagnéticos, es, por poner un ejemplo, Como creer que la tierra era plana o que el planeta era el centro del universo. Se conocen las corrientes auto inducidas (inductancia) en un solenoide o electroimán, y como consecuencia de esto, el mismo cambia de polaridad, cuestión no tenida en cuenta, pero si su efecto térmico (corrientes de Foucault) pues bien, teniendo en cuenta lo primero, y tratando de aprovechar este fenómeno, como una cualidad o ventaja que aplicada en el funcionamiento del nuevo generador que consiste en dos rotores y dos estatores estaríamos en condiciones de abrir una nueva era……..
    Necesito empresa o Institución que esté interesada en ello, yo no tengo medios para sacarlo adelante.
    . En la ciencia, la observación siempre triunfa sobre la teoría, no importa cuan noble de la teoría podría ser.