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 Orbital Solar = Win

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Jeff L
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PostSubject: Orbital Solar = Win   Tue Sep 01, 2009 11:35 pm

What with all the talk these days about energy and resources and plugin-electric-hybrid-solar-biodiesel-e85-fuelcell-contraptions-with-more-than-one-axle, I thought I'd throw in the not-too-often heard of but most logical choice for our power needs: Orbital Solar Power aka Space Solar Power. What it is amounts to gigantic solar power plants in geosynchronous orbit sending power to earth via diffuse microwave beams. Now as for the "why's":


-Solar energy is much greater outside of the Earth's atmosphere (you can get .18 kilowatt hours per square meter on earth from solar, but you can get 1.4 kilowatt hours per square meter in space from solar [numbers from Gerard O'Neil's book The High Frontier]). Also, there is no night and no weather, meaning a continuous power source day and night with minimal variances in output.

-No other energy source is as limitless or easily scalable. Even fusion reactors wouldn't be able to compete with orbital solar, and we haven't even gotten fusion to generate more power than it consumes yet. Additionally, even though fusion fuels are typically less radioactive than fission fuels, the radiation (or was it neutrons? both?) produced is sufficient to render the reactor very radioactive by affecting the materials the reactor itself is made of.

-The sun will be around for a good 5 billion years or so, and the usable space for orbital solar power plants is infinite for our purposes.

-All other energy sources pale compared to the cost-effectiveness of orbital solar, with one caveat: you need a way to manufacture them in space. Once you have a way to readily manufacture them though, the cost to manufacture them will be on par with standard power plants, but maintenance will only need to be performed periodically and no fuel will need to be purchased for them to run on. This means power from orbital solar plants will be "a fraction of a cent per kilowatt-hour" (O'Neill, The High Frontier, Chapter 4, page 32).

-The technology has already existed for several decades; this is pretty simple stuff really. For example, safe power transmission via diffuse microwaves has already been demonstrated:


Side Benefits:

1. Humans become extinction-proof as a species, since sizable populations could be supported off-planet due to the industrial base behind Orbital Solar (by sizable I mean several thousand to several million; however, [once again, according to Gerard O'Neil] there is enough material in the solar system that is not part of any moon or planet to produce enough habitable stations to be the equivalent of 3000x the earth's surface, which would mean several trillion people hypothetically could be supported).

2. Enough power to fully modernize/industrialize every nation on Earth, and feed the growing demand from already industrialized nations without limit. This has wide-ranging implications spanning from the end of (virtually) all poverty to the end of overpopulation crises (lower birth rates are present in industrialized/primarily urban societies).

3. CA$H MONEY: The orbital solar power industry (and its related components) would be behind quite possibly all of earth's power needs for the foreseeable future, meaning a handsome return for whoever successfully gets such a system to a working state... FOR THE NEXT SEVERAL HUNDRED YEARS.


Q: Isn't this Science Fiction?
A: Fat Chance.

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rdubard
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PostSubject: Re: Orbital Solar = Win   Wed Sep 02, 2009 5:24 am

Cool stuff

A depressingly practical set of questions:
What happens to living things that pass between the transmitting dish and the receiving panel while the energy is being transferred? What happens when they become misaligned? Is this stuff easily scalable? Do we have the tech to make these things in space (i.e. a weightless environment)?

On the other hand, that video is from NINETEEN SEVENTY FIVE, and I'll just bet we have learned an awful lot more about ways to make this work in the intervening thirty four years.
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Jeff L
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PostSubject: Re: Orbital Solar = Win   Wed Sep 02, 2009 9:26 am

rdubard wrote:
Cool stuff

A depressingly practical set of questions:
What happens to living things that pass between the transmitting dish and the receiving panel while the energy is being transferred? What happens when they become misaligned? Is this stuff easily scalable? Do we have the tech to make these things in space (i.e. a weightless environment)?

On the other hand, that video is from NINETEEN SEVENTY FIVE, and I'll just bet we have learned an awful lot more about ways to make this work in the intervening thirty four years.

1. Very little happens to them, actually. The beam is spread over several square miles, and more recent studies have indicated that species that are adversely affected simply leave. It looks like the main effect is it's a little warmer in the receiver location than normal. As for where you'd build receivers, you don't need a solid dish to receive microwaves - a very open mesh is capable of doing this. Open enough that you could grow crops under them, which is why you can just locate them over farmland. The biggest adverse affect is some frequencies can jam cellphone signals.

2. We've had the tech to make them in a weightless environment since slightly after Apollo - it's just gotten WAY CHEAPER to launch things (but still not quite as cheap as we'd like it to be). Construction is also becoming cheaper now that our robotics/automation technology has advanced significantly. It'd cost a good deal to set up the initial infrastructure, but the [monetary] payoff is mind-bogglingly high once it's in place. It may cost tens of billions of dollars to set up, but it would pay for itself in a matter of years.

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PostSubject: Re: Orbital Solar = Win   Thu Sep 24, 2009 7:07 pm

Wow, I'm speechless Will. I knew about wireless transfer of electricity but only in a distance of meters, and with low efficiency. My only argument against this is the adverse affects of the surrounding area.

To date, nothing has been seen that could lead to harmful affects of living creatures in the area, but things take time. The affect of cell phones and smoking wasn't found till years later, and although we live in a WIFI enabled century, where we are bombarded with RF waves all the time, it is radiation none the less. Even genetically altered crops giving higher yield and healthier foods, are now found to not be completely digestible by humans and will lead to a 1:17 ratio of autistic people in america by 2020, because of it's affects.

My point? Problems take time to notice, and with bigger and badder inventions, the risk does go up. Then again, sometimes it's worth the risk huh?

P.S. Man that is so bad booty. Do you have a link to the original article?
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Jeff L
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PostSubject: Re: Orbital Solar = Win   Thu Sep 24, 2009 8:58 pm

Will? I'm Jeff. Anyways, your points:

Slightly elevated microwave radiation will likely have little to no effect on crops other than a minute change in temperature. While it is true that biological metabolism is tied to temperature, the changes here are small enough to not be of concern. As for the autism bit, as far as I know we still haven't the slightest idea of the exact cause. The idea I've most recently seen is actually that there are many minute mutations that individually would have little effect on a person, that in concert have a much greater/more noticeable effect. The bit about genetically modified food is interesting, but I'm not convinced. There was a great deal of [misplaced] concern a little while ago (and still some today) that childhood vaccines could cause autism, which has since been undeniably refuted. Until we understand the root causes of autism more clearly, there's no telling what could be causing it.

Oh, and the articles of note are at the end (hyperlinked to Fat & Chance (each word with its own link))

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PostSubject: Re: Orbital Solar = Win   Thu Sep 24, 2009 9:46 pm

I was curious why I saw my name...
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