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.

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Cheaper solar cells

The MIT Tech Review has a story about an Atlanta, GA based start up named Suniva.

What makes Sunvia’s product interesting is that they have made the manufacturing process cheaper.  They are squeezing a little more efficiency out of their cells (20%, which is up from the industry standard of 17%), but the cost reduction is the big story.

With Sunvia’s process, electricity from solar power can be produced for 8 to 10 cents per kilowatt-hour.  That is a competative rate in the United States.   Lower costs will result in more solar power being used to generate electricity.   More use of solar power on a small scale will also help on a larger utility scale.

Cheaper electric solar panels will result in more individual homes adopting them.  The more homes that can power their A/C system from solar during the summer, the less demand there will be on the utility grid during peak hours.    Solar panels could be used to charge a set of batteries during the day that would then charge a plug in hybrid car during the night.

A breakthrough in more efficient solar cells?

It looks it could be.  12 year old William Yuan has a project entitled “A Highly-Efficient 3-Dimensional Nanotube Solar Cell for Visible and UV Light.” 

The kicker here is that his system harnesses UV light as well as visible light. Current solar cells only work off the visible light. 

The trick will be finding a partner who won’t screw him.