PG&E to get electricity from space!

Pacific Gas & Electric is seeking approval from state regulators for an agreement to purchase power over a 15-year period from Solaren Corp., an 8-year-old company based in Manhattan Beach, CA. Their goal is start beaming down power in 2016.

Solaren Corp. wants to build big solar panels in orbit and then beam the energy down to the surface.  This isn’t new technology. The concept is decades old.  Science Fiction author Larry Niven mentioned it in his 1990 short story, The Return of William Proximire

One of the common objections against this clear source of electrical energy has been from environmental groups who claim the area the energy is received (typically in the microwave frequency range) would not be optimal for animal life.


7 Responses

  1. The problem I have with it is it isn’t really practical – lofting stuff into orbit is still on the order of a $1000/Kg, so putting a large enough array into orbit to generate the kind of energy to be worthwhile is a financial nonstarter.

    But this is “Green”, so no doubt they’ll be all kinds of special tax breaks, and government grants and incentives to at least try it. In other words, it isn’t so much a viable energy project, but a convoluted form of rentseeking.

    What we should be doing is building things like CANDU and Pebblebed reactors, but they’re “ebil nukular”, so the odds of them getting built, despite them being incredibly safe, is about the same as me winning the lottery.

  2. This is California, so clean and safe nuclear power is a non-starter inside the state. California’s Sentator Feinstein is even blocking solar power stations in the state’s desert.

    This technology has the advantage of the launch being down in someone else’s back yard.

    This is clearly an attempt by PG&E to avoid the massive tax burden of an “non-renewable” energy the “Cap & Trade” act is going to slam power companies with. PG&E will pass that cost onto to consumer, but only after getting the state regulatory board to approve it.

    Not surprisingly, Nuclear Power is not considered “renewable” for the purpose of Cap & Trade taxes.

  3. Here is a link to an article describing how Senator Feinstein (democrat-CA) is working with the federal government to block solar power development.

  4. After doing some checking, my 1000/Kg number was off… By an order of magnitude – the number I see being thrown around for putting something in orbit is $20,000/kg


  5. The US doesn’t have a reliable and economical method for putting material into LEO. To once again dip in the well of Mr. Niven, Admiral Heinlein wouldn’t have allowed such a state to exist.

    Once the power sats are up there though, the only barrier to selling lots of cheap solar at market rates (and paying back the investment) will be the legal attacks from “environmentalists.”

    I’ve posted over at the Urbin Report ( about environmental groups blocking ground based solar power sites and windmill farms.

  6. I don’t think cheap orbital insertion will ever happen, at least in my lifetime, as the material science isn’t progressing enough to build beanstalks..

    Let alone the political will to spend that kind of capital to build a megastructure.

    Cheap power can be filled by other means.. TODAY. CANDU and Pebblebed reactors are efficient, and safe, and with mass construction, it would likely mean that each powerplant would cost less than a billion dollars each when constructed on a mass scale. Add in we have enough fuel from existing waste to power them for at least a decade, and several designs don’t require any refinement at all, and you can see the appeal.

  7. Keep up the fantastic work! Look forward to reading more from you in the future. I think it will be also nice if you add “send to email” tool so people can forward the articles to their friends easily.

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