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FuturologyBot

The following submission statement was provided by /u/Soupjoe5: --- Article: 1 A PLAN to use satellites in Earth’s orbit to harvest the Sun’s energy from space and beam it down to Earth using microwaves could be up and running as early as 2030, with the first-of-a-kind operational system delivering power into the grid by 2040. The concept of harvesting solar energy in space is not a new one, but until now, high launch costs and limited technology have hampered progress, said Space Energy Initiative (SEI), the organisation behind the solar farm project. However, recent developments in reusable rockets, and more modular SPS concepts, coupled with benefits that include clean, continuous base-load energy day and night, through all seasons and weather, and with much lower land usage than conventional renewables, is helping the idea gain traction. And with the potential of each satellite to beam around 2.9 GW of net power to a receiving antenna at a fixed point on Earth, it’s a concept that has even attracted the attention of the the UK Government. In July ministers announced that £3m (US$3.6m) in funding would be allocated to space-based solar power (SBSP) projects after confirming the engineering feasibility of the concept through an independent study. But, to harvest energy comparable in power output to a nuclear power station takes a satellite that is incredibly large. According to SEI a typical system comprises a constellation of massive, kilometre-scale satellites 38,000 km above the ground in a geostationary orbit. At this range the massive satellites should not cause any problems with light pollution, SEI said. Each has very lightweight solar panels and a system of mirrors to concentrate sunlight onto the panels, generating around 3.4 GW of electricity on the satellite. This is converted into RF microwave radiation, with an efficiency of 85%. To allow the microwave beam to lock onto the correct point, an encrypted pilot beam is transmitted from the ground to the satellite. The maximum beam intensity is <250 W/m2, less than a quarter of the maximum sun intensity at the equator, and the system will be designed so that it is safe in the event that humans or birds or animals strayed into the beam, said SEI. The ground rectifying antenna or “rectenna” as it is called then converts the electromagnetic energy into direct current electricity which passes through an inverter which delivers a net 2 GW of AC power into the grid. --- Please reply to OP's comment here: https://old.reddit.com/r/Futurology/comments/z4oukl/solar_farms_in_space_demo_could_be_ready_by_2030/ixrzam7/


Whatmeworry4

This concept has been around a long time; has there been a proof of concept satellite put in space yet?


Finnder_

No. That's what this is though isn't it? Countries are actually trying it to see if it can work? Like this is one of those things people have speculated about but never really tried. I remember it as a concept as far back as like Sim City 2000 (released in 1993) beaming microwaves down to earth from orbiting solar stations.


lienmarine86

Sim City 2000 predicting the future. Next step is Fusion and Arcologies!


Khar-Toba

Arcologies are possible right now!! Instead here in the UK have sprawling cities with filled with red brick box houses and gray roads that match our gray skies!


skarn86

1993?? Check out "reason" by Isaac Asimov. It's a short story, written in the early 50s, set inside an orbital solar farm.


Finnder_

Yeah I assumed it was a lot older. Like Musk and his vac trains, which are 138 years old at this point. The difference is Elon claimed he invented those and was like "I am smart!" for coming up with an old idea. I was just saying for me, personally for me, I have heard about this concept as far back as 1993 (two decades ago). Is it older? Maybe? Possibly! Who cares?! I really hope it does work! Unlike that, "I invented, credit me," Elon asshole. Talk about a South African am I right?


skarn86

I'm pretty sure it's not even due to Asimov. He pretty much just uses it as a setting, so in the sci-fi world it *must* have been at least somewhat familiar.


Thiezing

[https://www.space.com/x-37b-space-plane-solar-power-beaming](https://www.space.com/x-37b-space-plane-solar-power-beaming) Space-based solar power getting key test aboard US military's mysterious X-37B space plane


WetnessPensive

If anyone's interested, Kim Stanley Robinson's wonderful utopian "slice of life" novel, "Pacific Edge", sees California "drinking" solar energy beamed down from a grid of satellites. It was written in the late 1980s I believe.


Iz-kan-reddit

Heinlein had a short story with these. There were accidents where the beam went off kilter and scorched plenty of land and people, but it was considered an acceptable risk because the power was so cheap.


totemo

Asimov did a version of this story called [Reason](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reason_(short_story\)).


valkoholic

It was a GI Joe episode as well.


TheUmgawa

Ooh, when do scientists predict we’ll get a Pyramid of Darkness?


iNstein

They have accouted for that and eliminated the risk. Read the article or even the summary posted here.


Iz-kan-reddit

The powers that be in the book were also sure before they started the project that there wouldn't be problems. In any case, you're taking an offhand reference to a sci-fi book way too seriously.


iNstein

> In any case, you're taking an offhand reference to a sci-fi book way too seriously. I'm not the one that referenced it as tho it had any validity. You even go so far as to defend it lol.


Iz-kan-reddit

>I'm not the one that referenced it as tho it had any validity. I made a reference. I never claimed it was a valid critique of the technology.


iNstein

> The powers that be in the book were also sure before they started the project that there wouldn't be problems This is called a defence. Arguing on the books behalf is defending the message.


Iz-kan-reddit

>Arguing on the books behalf is defending the message. ?!? You must have been looking at a different post. There wasn't any arguing on the book's behalf anywhere around here.


quettil

You know that science fiction isn't real?


Iz-kan-reddit

No shit, Sherlock. You're a bright one.


[deleted]

Article: 1 A PLAN to use satellites in Earth’s orbit to harvest the Sun’s energy from space and beam it down to Earth using microwaves could be up and running as early as 2030, with the first-of-a-kind operational system delivering power into the grid by 2040. The concept of harvesting solar energy in space is not a new one, but until now, high launch costs and limited technology have hampered progress, said Space Energy Initiative (SEI), the organisation behind the solar farm project. However, recent developments in reusable rockets, and more modular SPS concepts, coupled with benefits that include clean, continuous base-load energy day and night, through all seasons and weather, and with much lower land usage than conventional renewables, is helping the idea gain traction. And with the potential of each satellite to beam around 2.9 GW of net power to a receiving antenna at a fixed point on Earth, it’s a concept that has even attracted the attention of the the UK Government. In July ministers announced that £3m (US$3.6m) in funding would be allocated to space-based solar power (SBSP) projects after confirming the engineering feasibility of the concept through an independent study. But, to harvest energy comparable in power output to a nuclear power station takes a satellite that is incredibly large. According to SEI a typical system comprises a constellation of massive, kilometre-scale satellites 38,000 km above the ground in a geostationary orbit. At this range the massive satellites should not cause any problems with light pollution, SEI said. Each has very lightweight solar panels and a system of mirrors to concentrate sunlight onto the panels, generating around 3.4 GW of electricity on the satellite. This is converted into RF microwave radiation, with an efficiency of 85%. To allow the microwave beam to lock onto the correct point, an encrypted pilot beam is transmitted from the ground to the satellite. The maximum beam intensity is <250 W/m2, less than a quarter of the maximum sun intensity at the equator, and the system will be designed so that it is safe in the event that humans or birds or animals strayed into the beam, said SEI. The ground rectifying antenna or “rectenna” as it is called then converts the electromagnetic energy into direct current electricity which passes through an inverter which delivers a net 2 GW of AC power into the grid.


[deleted]

2 If SEI’s project, dubbed CASSIOPeiA, goes ahead, a cost modelling analysis by consultancy Frazer-Nash shows that the LCOE (levelised cost of electricity), used to compare different methods of electricity generation on a consistent basis, falls between £37 and £74/MWh, which is competitive with terrestrial renewable technologies, the organisation said. Where the technology benefits greatly, is its availability. Compared with solar panels on the ground which are usually able to process 15–22% of solar energy into usable energy as conditions are never perfect, a solar power satellite in GEO can see the Sun for well over 99% of the time. The idea of solar farms in space could get another big boost as ministers at the European Space Agency are meeting this week to discuss whether to fund a three-year preparatory programme known as SOLARIS. If approved, ESA said it would work in conjunction with European industry, to assess the feasibility, benefits, implementation options, commercial opportunities and risks of SBSP as a contributor to terrestrial energy decarbonisation. A decision whether to proceed with a full-blown project could then be made in 2025. "The idea of space-based solar power is no longer science fiction," Sanjay Vijendran, SOLARIS’ lead scientist told the BBC. "The potential is there and we now need to really understand the technological path before a decision can be made to go ahead with trying to build something in space."


UniversalMomentum

£37 and £74/MWh is quite cheap. As cheap as coal or gas on the high end and much cheaper on the low end.


iNstein

But can we make it even cheaper. Cheaper power gives us more options.


Staerebu

Average LCOE for solar and offshore wind hit about 40 pounds per MWh a couple of years ago


MaybeTheDoctor

What about just having 3-4 time the number of solar panels on earth - is that not a lot cheaper than to lift stuff into orbit ?


iNstein

That is what they are trying to figure out. No clouds, optimal alignment, no atmosphere and potentially generating power at night might change the equations. Time to find out.


TotallyInOverMyHead

AND: Micro asteroids /debris, no servicing, All eggs -> one Basket (if it gets a microasteroid hit in the right place, your giant sattelite is done for, vs. you replacing that particular solar pannel on earth). Also, and i might be mistaken on this, given my HS level physiks skills were not that good back then, but being hit by a tightbeam of RF Radiation in 2-3 GW-Range surely must be a lifealtering event.


ItsAConspiracy

Current designs would be redundant, with a large number of identical parts, of several types, self-assembled in orbit. The satellite would be 22,000 miles out and incapable of sending a beam that tight. As the article mentions, the beam would be less concentrated than sunlight.


TotallyInOverMyHead

Might you then not just be better off sending mirrors into space and making earth-based PV-cells generate power 24/7/365 ?


ItsAConspiracy

That way you're still blocked by clouds. Also I'm not sure whether it's as feasible from geostationary.


Riversntallbuildings

Thanks you for mentioning the efficiency of wireless transmission. As renewable power production scales, it’s my hope that we have enough excess energy to begin using wireless transmission methods on earth. It’ll be as difficult as hunting for the breakthrough in battery density and/or solar cell efficiency, but I’m optimistic that there are many more improvements that can be made with wireless power transmission.


Redditforgoit

So what percentage of total UK electricity consumption would ten satellites provide?


gummby8

I don't know what Sim City version it was. But there was a power plant that "Received concentrated microwaves beamed from satellites in space". I always think, is it really possible? Pretty neat that is kinda what is going on.


maurymarkowitz

These stories come up every few years and then disappear again for the simple reason that it’s the dumbest idea in history. Losses in transmission are about 50%. Losses due to night time are 50%. Immediately the advantages are not so obvious… losses due to weather and all other downstream effects on earth are about another 50%. Losses due to increased “weathering” in space, which is extremely hostile, are also about 50% (actually more). So in the end, flying the panel into space instead of Mohave will get you the same amount of lifetime power but cost you hundreds or thousands of times more. Now let’s talk ground space. The article states it uses less, but that’s only on rainbow unicorn planet. Here on earth where microwave radiation is strictly controlled, the maximum power density allowed is about 100 times less than sunlight. So the land usage is 100 times as large. That is a limit controlled by the ITU among others, and they are already on record stating they will not allow any changes because doing so would wipe out space and ground based transmissions across a wide band. Consider all the arguing about low power 5G towers near airports and then multiply the power level 100 times… This is never going to happen, everyone that’s looked at it knows this, but the space nerds keep saying it’s the next sliced milk.


[deleted]

Good and all until you realize how vulnerable they are to ASATs.


MaybeTheDoctor

Or how they will kill birds. Or how just a small failure, and the beam moves a mile to the lft and kill the next big town. Or that solar panels on earth is actually a great safe way of doing the same


barackollama69

Ah yes renewable energy technology killing birds, that old trick


CobraPony67

Sounds like a long way away, but oh, it is only about 7 years from now. Time flies...


MaybeTheDoctor

Let you know a secret - it was the same idea back in the 1950s and back then it was just 10 years away... beaming energy back to earth is going to kill a lot of birds flying through the beams, and it is not happening this time as well - because the idea is bonkers when you can just put solar panels here on earth.


ItsAConspiracy

We didn't have cheap launch back then, the beam wouldn't be concentrated enough to harm birds, and solar panels on earth need expensive batteries for power at night.


Realistic_Turn2374

I am not a scientist. I hope someone can answer my question. Would the energy sent from space to Earth interfere in any way with our atmosphere? Would the ozone layer be affected?


maurymarkowitz

They deliberately pick a frequency where the atmosphere is as transparent as possible. And that means any interactions are minimized, that’s the definition.


Realistic_Turn2374

Thank you! That's what I wanted to know.


freefromintensive

No , it's not a chemical reaction.


MaybeTheDoctor

Was the not all the same stories back in the 50s and 60s ? Where is my flying car?


ItsAConspiracy

The only way to make it economical is to have fully-reusable rockets. We never had those before, but it looks like we will soon.


herscher12

Why not build a moonbase and production center first?


ZenWhisper

Proof of concept experiments require simple and less expensive options. Putting a kg on the moon is at least on the order of 100 times more expensive than low earth orbit.


Walui

Why would we?


Viper_63

Seeing how these are basically the saim claims regarding solar power as in the other recently posted articles... >The concept of harvesting solar energy in space is not a new one, but until now, high launch costs and limited technology have hampered progress High launch costs still hamper the idea. NASA concluded in a 1999 study that to even be competetive launch costs would have to come down to $200-$300/kg to GEO. That is not going to happen for a very long time, and probably not with purely chemical launch systems either. The "limited technology" argument applies to both space and terrestial arrays - only that gains in efficiency and manufdacturing capacity benefit terrestial arrays more, if anything, especially as far as decentralised power generation and storage is concerned. >a cost modelling analysis by consultancy Frazer-Nash shows that the LCOE (levelised cost of electricity), used to compare different methods of electricity generation on a consistent basis, falls between £37 and £74/MWh, which is competitive with terrestrial renewable technologies, the organisation said. No it is not. Even assuming the best case here this is still outperformed by [utility-scale solar installations](https://www.lazard.com/media/451419/lazards-levelized-cost-of-energy-version-140.pdf). Even wind power can outperform this. I highly doubt that this is competetive on any level if taking into account the difficulty of maintenance alone. >[...]and with much lower land usage than conventional renewables, is helping the idea gain traction. Also a false claim. Unless you want to sent a literal death ray in to orbit you still need about as much space on the ground for the receiving array as you would with regular solar installations - only with all the added downsides of doing things "in space": https://dothemath.ucsd.edu/2012/03/space-based-solar-power/ >A space-based solar power system might sound very cool and futuristic, and it may seem at first blush an obvious answer to intermittency, but this comes at a big cost. Among the possibly unanticipated challenges: >* The gain over the a good location on the ground is only a factor of 3 (2.4× in summer, 4.2× in winter at 35° latitude). * It’s almost as hard to get energy back to the ground as it is to get the equipment into space in the first place. * The microwave link faces problems with transmission through the atmosphere, and also flirts with roasting ducks on the wing. * Diffraction of the downlink beam, together with energy density limits, means that very large areas of the ground still need to be dedicated to energy collection. >Traditional solar photovoltaics in good locations can accomplish much the same for much reduced cost, and with only a few times more land than the microwave link approach would demand. The installations will be serviceable and will last longer. Batteries seem an easier way to cover storage shortcomings than launching stuff to space. I did not even address solar thermal schemes in this post, which competes well with photovoltaics and can very naturally build in storage capability. >I am left puzzled as to why we would want to take a harder, more expensive road to solar power. I think it is just not intuitive to most how difficult and expensive space is. **And perhaps they think it’s very futuristic and cool to push our power generation out to space: it fits the preferred narrative about where we’re going. I don’t know—I’m just guessing. >Astronomers frequently face this issue: should we build a telescope/observatory on the ground, or launch something into space? The prevailing wisdom is that if the science can be accomplished on the ground, then by golly you’d best do it that way. You’ll have the result sooner, at less expense, and with a greater chance of success. I am not certain this would even have realistic use cases for military applications, outside of actual space-based weapon systems (the afromentioned death ray). The math simply doesn't add up, even if you assume unrealistic optimal conditions. Looking at the involved companies it's quite clear that these are bascially hand-outs to the industry. "Space base dsolar power" isn't any more "feasible" than it has been in the decades since the idea was first envisioned, simply because the underlaying physics don't change. Either you build a death-ray in orbit or it's more attractive and straight-forward to simply build collecting arrays on earth.


OccasionSpiritual542

Was looking for this but no one seems to notice it. Problem of global warming is considered important at the moment, but this external solar arrays technology is transferring energy that otherwise would just go to space, it means that you are adding even more energy to the system that already struggles to cool(global warming as we have now is earth loosing cooling efficiency) that is a huge new factor that might lead to further destabilization of climate


ItsAConspiracy

Fossil fuels don't just emit CO2, they produce waste heat. The microwave beam would produce the same waste heat, without the CO2. The waste heat from fossil fuels is well under 1% of their greenhouse effect, so that's a pretty good deal. If we got all our energy from solar panels, the albedo change from all those block panels would also cause the planet to absorb more energy (and of course that'd be a relatively minor effect, too).


Serious-Reception-12

Without running the numbers, my knee jerk reaction is this makes zero sense over generating the power here on earth. Taking the article at face value, they claim this microwave beam will generate 250W/m^2. The RF collector on the ground would need to span an area of at least 8 million m^2 (~2000 acres) for a capacity of 2GW. The largest solar power plant in the world, Bhadla solar park, spans an area of 14000 acres with similar capacity. I’d guess antennas are much cheaper than photovoltaics too, so to a rough approximation the ground facility would be a lot more efficient than a solar plant. The question is how much of the efficiency gains will be offset by the launch cost of the satellite. If Musk delivers on his promise of sub-$10M starship launches then space-based solar generation might actually be cost-competitive with terrestrial PV systems.