Is it time to put a dimmer on the push for space solar power?

This article seems to be missing the parameters of security, safety, reliability and cost effectiveness.

It a military conflict, orbiting solar collectors would be easy to disrupt. On the other hand, distributed rooftop solar collectors and colocated batteries would be extremely hard for an adversary to disrupt.

And, beaming terawatts of power to Earth's surface from space would either require a lot of receiving area or involve high intensity beams of microwaves. What are the effects of the proposed beams on humans and other organisms? (Spain already has a solar furnace type project that fries birds with reflected, focused sunlight.)

What is the cost of putting solar collectors in space and beaming and distributing it on Earth, compared to distributed solar collectors on Earth with local batteries?

What is the effect on astronomy from these collectors and transmitters, both to visible light and microwave observations? What is the intensity of "leakage" of various EMFs?
 
  • Like
Reactions: Ken Fabian
This article seems to be missing the parameters of security, safety, reliability and cost effectiveness.

It a military conflict, orbiting solar collectors would be easy to disrupt. On the other hand, distributed rooftop solar collectors and colocated batteries would be extremely hard for an adversary to disrupt.

And, beaming terawatts of power to Earth's surface from space would either require a lot of receiving area or involve high intensity beams of microwaves. What are the effects of the proposed beams on humans and other organisms? (Spain already has a solar furnace type project that fries birds with reflected, focused sunlight.)

What is the cost of putting solar collectors in space and beaming and distributing it on Earth, compared to distributed solar collectors on Earth with local batteries?

What is the effect on astronomy from these collectors and transmitters, both to visible light and microwave observations? What is the intensity of "leakage" of various EMFs?

You beat me to it, so I'll just back you up with some sources. Russia has recently:

Imagine how much more dangerous it might be when space is open to more countries.
 
May 29, 2024
1
1
15
Visit site
I wonder if humanity has some innate polarization trait sometimes. For the last six years I have been tirelessly promoting a benign technology - like promoting oat milk I imagine: beneficial to everyone, no downsides, desirable.

Yet there is a constant stream of opposition, even hate mail. This is especially true in America, when NASA published a study saying it is environmentally negative (untrue, quite the opposite) and even my old boss Elon saying it is the dumbest idea ever (based upon end-to-end efficiency, rather than cost).

Polarization serves a purpose. It helps focus the mind on issues and what’s at stake. With space based solar power, there is a lot at stake. It’s a key component in a strategy to open up space and solve big problems on earth with poverty, climate, and energy.

No other space application can do as much for humanity, paying for a huge fleet of launch vehicles and dramatically driving down the cost of access to space if nothing else. Space solar is the chance to solve energy for ever for everyone.

You can forgive the author of this Space dot com article for making an over the top headline to get reads - you would think it was negative even if it is not.

What do you think?

(By the way, Breyers makes amazing non-dairy oat milk ice cream)
 
Last edited by a moderator:
  • Like
Reactions: COLGeek
There are lots of people with "good ideas" that will "transform humanity", which have not turned out to be as great as the propaganda that has urged their adoption. So, what you are seeing is a natural skepticism, based on experience, not a natural "polarization", or what I would more informatively call it, "a trait for nay-saying".

That said, trying to sell us on oat milk to replace cow's milk as an analogy for an obviously great idea that should show how right you are about space solar power too, seems to indicate that you are on the fringe. Or, at least not good at "reading the room".

Address the issues that I raised in a previous post, and I will listen and maybe learn something. But telling me that I am inferior to you because I am "polarized" is an indication that you don't really have the answers to the issues that I raised. If you are really superior, you should be able to be more persuasive to folks with the technical backgrounds that provide them with the ability to understand what you are trying to sell.
 
Sep 6, 2023
2
0
10
Visit site
I'm fine with it as long as it's not visible from Earth and doesn't block any of the night sky. I'd rather humans go extinct than lose the sky.
 
Apr 6, 2023
27
9
535
Visit site
Wow, lots of Kool Aid drinking here. Let's put this discussion in perspective. When it comes to technologies like this, you often see the same language being deployed by those hawking their solutions, as John Bucknell so eloquently demonstrated. "energy technologies know that a scalable solution needs to be low complexity, low mineral intensity, mass manufacturable and able to deliver firm, safe, low-cost e-power like fossil fuels have for the last 200 years,"

So what's the cost to do everything in that sentence? That's the real mystery isn't it? Would it even be worth doing or are there better alternatives?

For some perspective it cost Airbus over $25 Billion dollars (that's $1 Billion dollars more than NASA's current annual budget) to develop the A380. Keep in mind that jet powered, intercontinental travel, by air had been established for over 40 years at the time. It wasn't like they had to reinvent the wheel they just had to scale it up.

What I really heard here is that we should immediately scale up to space based, planet wide power delivery systems, hoisted into orbit on our space elevators, that are powered by our fusion reactors.
 
  • Like
Reactions: bolide
We need to assess gyrotron thermal drilling before moving to space based power. If thermal drilling pans out, we would have a nearly infinite amount of energy available to any spot on Earth at very low cost. Every existing power plant could be converted within a few months. Proponents are estimating a 6 week drilling effort at a cost of $3M to convert a plant. This could be off by several powers of ten and still be attractive. It has never been done so it's entirely theoretical at this point.
 
Apr 6, 2023
27
9
535
Visit site
We need to assess gyrotron thermal drilling before moving to space based power. If thermal drilling pans out, we would have a nearly infinite amount of energy available to any spot on Earth at very low cost. Every existing power plant could be converted within a few months. Proponents are estimating a 6 week drilling effort at a cost of $3M to convert a plant. This could be off by several powers of ten and still be attractive. It has never been done so it's entirely theoretical at this point.
Again, it's the same language:

Although just beginning to test the waters, if ultimately successful at scale, Quaise’s gyrotron based drilling systems could provide a renewable energy solution which would eventually be able to provide 100% of the world’s energy demand.
 
If you believe that global warming is going to harm the planet, then adding radiant energy to our present incident radiant level is a supremely DIM idea. It totally ignores science and energy inventories. It would take much more mining than fossil fuel ever could. It takes much more ore and processing for an EV than many ICE vehicles. A huge increase in mining.

A total waste of endeavor.

All the free clean energy for thousands of generations is just below your feet.

Hot water drilling is the future for agreeable and low cost energy And turn any desert green. Keep any river flowing.

Water control is climate control. Bore holes with faucets solves a lot of problems and is a great solution. 24/7. Quiet and clean.

Drill now for the shallows while we improve the tech. Many sites now would be cost effective.
 
Boundless optimism for the possibility and deep pessimism for clean energy technologies here on Earth - no surprise; I expect that is needed to keep at it. Whereas my own view has it the other way around. The rate of growth of RE is astonishing with solar cell production alone predicted by the IEA to reach 1TW per year before the end of next year. Battery costs are headed downwards and their capabilities keep going up.

We are seeing enough confidence in wind and solar now that investment in the transmission infrastructure, energy storage is starting to flow through, including grid batteries, EV's and pumped hydro storage to support it is starting to kick in. Heat pumps are getting better - air source types for sub-zero winter heating, improved borehole drilling techniques for ground source types, going much deeper and suited to large buildings on small sites and doing it cheaper. Better drilling methods can open up major geothermal energy sources too. If you need to bet on RE on the ground failing to thrive for Space Solar to look good enough it won't be good enough.

John - the question I can't help asking whenever space solar power comes up -

Can the beamed energy technology be used like a global grid to transmit power up from Earth based solar farms in daylight up and back down where it is night and skip having to launch all those solar cells into space? If the technologies have improved, has the overall transmission efficiency improved enough to do that?
 
I think the technology is worth pursuing. I just don't think that it is likely to be the primary source of power on Earth. Maybe on the Moon, especially for lunar bases near the poles, or on Mars. Being able to transmit large amounts of power without stringing heavy wires seems to be much more important in those locations, and is much less likely to have unexpected environmental effects or strategic security risks.

On the other hand, the "promises" of power sources that are cheap and will change humanity's condition just remind me of the promises that fission power would produce electricity "too cheap to meter" and that fusion power would take another 50 years to develop (starting about 70 years ago, now). Those are just "marketing" statements made by people who want money to pursue their dreams. Reality has generally turned out to be a lot more mundane.

And, the idea that any one system should supply almost all of humanity's power needs is just poor planning. With the idea that everything should be converted to use "clean" electric power, we will need that power to be extremely reliable. Anybody who has developed systems that must be highly reliable realizes that reliability requires both redundancy and diversity in the processes used. Or, as was once the proverb, "Don't put all of your eggs in one basket."
 
Apr 18, 2020
107
21
4,585
Visit site
If you believe that global warming is going to harm the planet, then adding radiant energy to our present incident radiant level is a supremely DIM idea. It totally ignores science and energy inventories. It would take much more mining than fossil fuel ever could. It takes much more ore and processing for an EV than many ICE vehicles. A huge increase in mining.

A total waste of endeavor.

All the free clean energy for thousands of generations is just below your feet.

Hot water drilling is the future for agreeable and low cost energy And turn any desert green. Keep any river flowing.

Water control is climate control. Bore holes with faucets solves a lot of problems and is a great solution. 24/7. Quiet and clean.

Drill now for the shallows while we improve the tech. Many sites now would be cost effective.
You're not "adding" energy to the planet if you are just intercepting energy that was headed to Earth anyway. On the other hand, bringing energy up from below is adding it to the biosphere, since it was previously locked away underground. Kind of like fossil fuels add carbon to the biosphere, by bringing up that which had been locked away for millions of years underground.
 
Neither is really correct.

Intercepting sunlight above the atmosphere and transmitting it through a frequency "window" in the atmosphere does get more energy to the ground. And the satellite solar panels might have orbits that are outside the Earth's diameter for a significant part of their circumference, thus capturing sunlight that would have gone past Earth.

And, taking energy out of the deep underground is hastening its entry into the biosphere, but it really isn't "locked away" until that is done. If energy is extracted from deep underground, it will decrease the temperature of the rock above, and thus slow the natural process of heat dissipating from the core to the surface through the top layers. Yes, there will be a transition of more heat getting to the surface for a while. The real issue is what that will do to the upper layers of rock over a long period if done in huge amounts. Will there be more earthquakes? Will they be different? Will land subside?
 
Any light added to incident light is just like turning the sun up. Turning the thermostat up. You'll destroy the planet.

If you pulled all the water needed for all electrical generation on earth, tomorrow, the percentage would be so low it would take hundreds of years to measure. Most of that heat will be converted into motion. It would have LESS heat loss than we have today with current generation. A cooler planet.

I fail to find a disadvantage. No fuel mining, shipping cost, storing cost or infrastructure cost. Lot's of indirect emissions......gone.

Unless there really is lizard people. Or a 250K yr. cicada virus, that wipes out all life, and we release it early.
 
Dec 21, 2023
2
0
10
Visit site
Have you ever in your whole life have a utility bill go DOWN?
In our state we have this fake utility cost board theater. The utility asks for more than they want and the fake utility cost board lowers it a little bit, but it always goes up.

Electricity was suppose to be penny cheap from nuclear power,
HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA *deep breath*

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA *another deep breath*

HAHAHAHAHAHAHA…

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA *deep breath*

HAHAHAHAHAHA…

okay, I’ll stop now.

HAHAHAHA… Sorry, that just slipped out.

There is no point in do anything at all until strict legal limits are placed on how much utilities can CHARGE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
 
To clarify something, the deep drilling into hot rock is not intended to bring up hot water that is already there - it is intended to provide a passage for us to circulate surface water (or another fluid) into the deep rocks to extract heat to be used to generate electricity on the surface. Pumping that much water out of the deep surface would definitely be a problem for subsidence and earth quakes, but that is not the plan.

This should not be confused with "geothermal heat pumps", which transfer heat to water in (open or closed) reservoirs of water near the surface, so that they get warmed in summer and cooled in winter as heat is added and subtracted to do the opposite in a building on the surface. that is just a way to average the heat energy in the building better over the year, compared to pumping in into and out of the atmosphere around the building.
 
Gyrotron drilling is the technique that is hoped to make super-deep (20 km deep) bore holes super quickly and super cheaply.

If it works, there is still the issue of how to capture the heat from the rock at the depth where the boreholes end. From what I have read, that involves fracturing the rock down there with super high pressures. The oil and gas industry has been doing that near the surface for some years now, with some unintended consequences to people's wells, and homes.

So, it is the fracking part of the project that might "go sideways" figuratively as well as literally in this scheme for extracting heat from the earth using gyrotron drills.

I do think the technology should be developed and tested. But I think it is too early to say it is going to be as useful as hoped.

However, if it does work out without any severe limitations or serious side effects, then it really could revolutionize the availability of electric power just about everywhere that people live on Earth. And, it might end the projects to develop space-based solar, or even solar roofs on Earth.
 
Even if the star wars drill is a failure, it's worthwhile to drill conventionally. Start with shallow areas first. There is no downside. Just look at all the money and resources being wasted on solar and wind. It's ridiculous. While China and India belch out more fossil emissions than all before. They burn coal and sell us rare earths. So we can save the planet.

Who has the intellect?
 
Apr 18, 2020
107
21
4,585
Visit site
Neither is really correct.

Intercepting sunlight above the atmosphere and transmitting it through a frequency "window" in the atmosphere does get more energy to the ground. And the satellite solar panels might have orbits that are outside the Earth's diameter for a significant part of their circumference, thus capturing sunlight that would have gone past Earth.

And, taking energy out of the deep underground is hastening its entry into the biosphere, but it really isn't "locked away" until that is done. If energy is extracted from deep underground, it will decrease the temperature of the rock above, and thus slow the natural process of heat dissipating from the core to the surface through the top layers. Yes, there will be a transition of more heat getting to the surface for a while. The real issue is what that will do to the upper layers of rock over a long period if done in huge amounts. Will there be more earthquakes? Will they be different? Will land subside?
Are you saying that a microwave-frequency beam cuts through the atmosphere more efficiently than raw sunlight--to the extent that it outweighs the inefficiencies of collection, conversion, and transmission needed to beam that solar energy to the ground? I'd like to see numbers.

Likewise for "the natural process of heat dissipating from the core to the surface." What's known about the rate of such dissipation, and how does it compare to the rate of extraction needed for energy production at a meaningful scale?
 
Bolide, atmospheric windows are described here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atmospheric_window . The intent of a design for space solar energy collection and transmission to Earth would choose a "window" that minimizes loses by absorption in the atmosphere.

But, that is not the only issue with gathering energy in space to transmit to Earth's surface. As I already posted, some of the solar light hitting the space panels would not be hitting Earth. And, the transmission to the night side would be adding to night time energy absorption on Earth's surface. I don't think those are deal breakers, but I made my previous post because your post that tried to say energy was not added to the biosphere by space solar but is by geothermal is missing some of the real parameters. Things like that may look inconsequential, until you start considering the scales for which these processes are being considered to "change humanity" with "endless, cheap" power sources.

Regarding the geothermal energy, it is naturally conducted through the earth's crust and radiated to space. Not far below the surface, the temperature is about 55 degrees F. And, it increases with depth, so mines need to be cooled, etc. Geothermal energy being extracted from 20 Km below the surface is expected to be at something like 500 degrees C.
If you drill holes and extract heat, you cool the volume of rock from which the heat is extracted. So, the amount of temperature difference driving convection above that is decreased, and less heat continues to the surface above. Depending on what you do with that energy that you take to the surface, it will probably mostly end up as additional heat in the biosphere. Which is pretty much what happens to any electrical power that we generate. And, from there it gets radiated to space, a lot through those windows discussed above. So, geothermal heat extraction is sort of short-cutting the natural process to the biosphere and making use of the temperature difference to extract some useful work as it goes through.

The extent of the effect on temperature in the biosphere is going to depend on how much geothermal energy is extracted and how fast. The current proposals are to drill holes by existing steam electric plants (powered by coal, oil, gas or nuclear fission) and use geothermal steam in the already existing turbines and generators. So, waste heat would probably be about the same as now, which does heat local waters or air, depending on whether cooling towers are used. But, there would not also be the emission of CO2 from the fossil fueled plants that somewhat closes one of those atmospheric radiation to space windows. It is that last effect that proponents are trying to achieve.

i am not going to spend my time looking up the thermal capacities and conductivities of granite and basalt and then doing heat flow calculations. That is for the engineers to do when they design an actual system. But, the amount of heat energy that can actually be extracted from hot rock is not "unlimited" for any particular set of holes drilled into a specific volume of rock. It is limited by how fast heat can flow from elsewhere into that volume of rock to keep the temperature from falling. It is analogous to, but not exactly the same as the "cone of depression" that occurs around water wells, which depends on the rate that the water is pumped, as well as the porosity of the materials at the bottom of the well and the driving head of overlying water pressure. Just like you can't pump a well too fast of too long without running it dry, you can't extract heat from hot rock too fast or too long without making it cool down too much to be useful.
 
Last edited:
This should not be confused with "geothermal heat pumps", which transfer heat to water in (open or closed) reservoirs of water near the surface, so that they get warmed in summer and cooled in winter as heat is added and subtracted to do the opposite in a building on the surface.
Borehole type geothermal works in all kinds of ground, no water required although I think earliest iterations preferred to draw heat from groundwater. More heat from less boreholes?

Where the heat is going both directions - where it works as interseasonal energy storage that pumps heat from Summer cooling down and draws heat back in Winter - large building lose less heat to the environment and often make more heat over a year than they use and still need to shed heat with cooling towers to prevent the thermal mass overheating.

The kinds of innovation improving the viability aren't quite what I expected - Bedrock Energy is one company that appears to make use of latest oil and gas drilling methods that use a continuous feed of pipe from a coil, without the old style stop and add another section. That also allows the drill head to have a range of sensors that tell operators what current conditions are. Very deep holes are substituting depth for the number of boreholes and overall footprint. Retrofitting older buildings as well as new construction.

A lot of the cost reduction in this case isn't only from drilling equipment but from amassing a database on ground conditions in relevant locations from as many sources as possible including their own prior drillings in order to better control the drill rig and importantly, better estimate the time and cost. Usually a driller will have limited knowledge of what to expect and will charge extra on the possiblity of hitting unfavorable conditions. They are claiming (but let's wait and see) 1/5th of the time for construction and have confidence to guarantee long term thermal performance.

Apparently at least one cold climate air source heat pump seller has been offering guarantees - lowered heating costs in Maine (I think) or they will give full refund and uninstall. I don't think air source heat pump makers are done innovating either.
 

Latest posts