Solar Power That Doesn’t Suck

Renewable energy is the buzzword used by any company or non-profit organization that wants a big fat grant from the federal government. One of the big categories of renewable energy is solar. Solar sounds nice on paper since it produces energy from the sun and if the sun stops providing energy we will have much larger issues to worry about that electricity. But solar panels can also be unreliable. At night or when there is cloud cover solar panels produce nothing. The atmosphere, by design, also greatly diminishes solar energy before it gets to Earth’s surface. These factors make terrestrial solar panels less than idea for power production. But that doesn’t mean solar energy is nonviable, it merely means solar collectors need to be placed in space:

It’s been the subject of many previous studies and the stuff of sci-fi for decades, but space-based solar power could at last become a reality—and within 25 years, according to a proposal from researchers at the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA). The agency, which leads the world in research on space-based solar power systems, now has a technology road map that suggests a series of ground and orbital demonstrations leading to the development in the 2030s of a 1-gigawatt commercial system—about the same output as a typical nuclear power plant.

This is research into solar energy that actually matters. Unlike the shit research produced here in the United States, research into space-based solar collectors could actually create a viable source of energy for our increasingly energy-hungry society.

Obviously the technology isn’t without danger. If energy is being beamed from orbit the beam will most likely carry a rather high damage potential. But wind farms and terrestrial solar collectors don’t have a flawless safety record either. Anything that generates enough electrical energy to matter is almost certainly going to have some tradeoffs. The only question becomes one of tradeoff. Here in the United States we’ve basically decided that the risk of nuclear meltdown is too great for the amount of power produced. Will we decide that the risk of a point on land being incinerated is low enough for the amount of power produced? I hope so because space-based solar panels will likely be the only renewable energy source that can produced what our species needs.