Beaming solar power from space

Astronaut Steve Swanson on mission at the International Space Station


Steve Chiotakis: In California, air regulators yesterday adopted a mandate requiring low-carbon fuels. It's the first state in the nation to do that officially. And it's part of California's wider effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The standards are expected to create a new market for alternative fuels. There's already a market for new ways to make energy, and a lot of it is out of this world. From the Marketplace Sustainability Desk, here's Jennifer Collins.

Jennifer Collins: California law requires utility companies to get a fifth of their electricity from renewable sources by 2012. So Pacific Gas and Electric has come up with one project that's pretty far out.

Spokesman Jonathan Marshall:

Jonathan Marshall: To send satellites up into space with huge solar panels, gather the energy and then send it back to Earth via radio waves.

Basically they'd beam solar energy back to Earth and then feed it into PG&E's grid. Hmm -- sounds a little like a movie coming out in a few weeks.

[Star Trek theme song]

The plan is have those space-y solar panels orbiting the Earth within seven years. They'd generate enough electricity to power 240,000 homes.

Monique Hanis is with the Solar Energy Industries Association. She says the satellite project could make solar power more expensive and:

Monique Hanis: We feel that there's so much that can be done right now to capture solar power right here on Earth.

PG&E says solar panels in space would provide much more electricity than the ones on Earth do.

I'm Jennifer Collins for Marketplace.

About the author

Jennifer Collins is a reporter for the Marketplace portfolio of programs. She is based in Los Angeles, where she covers media, retail, the entertainment industry and the West Coast.
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In 1968 Dr. Peter Glaser proposed and patented the SSPS concept. Bel Labs and others investigated it. Unfortunately launch and construction cost was too high. The numbers may be better now but NASA is not even capable of doing it with the space shuttle retiring.

Note that an added benefit is that it could be used as a weapon!

Kind Regards,

Jon Paul

It's a bit odd for me to hear the language of "just use what we've already got" from a group that's as (assumably) progressive as the SEIA. What's in it economically for them that's making them drag their feet? Are they worried that something better will be made than their own ideas?
When someone changes the standard tune so radically (at least based on my assumptions), I have to question their overall credibility.

It is about time a major utility company thinks about using satellites to generate solar energy. Sure the first version of this technology will be more expensive than the solar energy we can now produce on earth. But over time, I expect the cost of this technology, like all new technologies to come down. I hope one day PG&E can power many more homes from space-source solar energy than the initial estimated 240,000.

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