Image: Japan USEF, SSPS project
Space Solar Power System Closer to Reality
Japan's space agency, USEF, is in the news again with their plans to build a space solar power station, equivalent to a medium sized nuclear plant, by 2030. Inspired by hope that such a sci-fi vision becomes reality, we have some advice for the Japanese space agency, some wisdom learned in the trenches of the fight against global warming. The nugget of knowledge that could make the difference between success and failure for the ambitious space-based solar station is this: Nix on talk about laser or microwave beams from space to earth.
The Power of Words
The need to pick your words carefully is amply demonstrated by experience fighting the global "get your bikini and we'll all go the the beach" crisis. After Hollywood portrays the horrors striking passengers that stray into the "death-beam" zone, the project will never recover. Project supporters striving to find evidence that all is well will read that the project includes a phase for studies and epidemiology research concerning the influence of microwave frequencies on the environment and the human body, which on the whole gives more of a "we're not sure either" message.
There is a long history of "careful marketing" to advance scientific ideas. For example, before Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) was introduced as a medical tool, scientists referred to the technique as Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR). Cleverly acknowledging the public understanding of the word "nuclear" would mask logical discussions about the alignment of the atomic core in a magnetic field (see? atomic corezzzz, you are snoozing already) -- the purveyors of MRI dropped the "N-word".
The Solar Stream
We therefore humbly submit the term "solar stream" as an alternative to laser beam. Images, such as the one above, of the gentle solar stream illuminating devices that look like sunbathing rafts will sell the public on this crazy sci-fi idea.
There is nothing evil about selecting words carefully when the facts will be on their side. The CEO of competitor Solargen has remarked that five times as much solar radiation hits airplanes as the waves of solar energy rolling towards the earth-based receiver. Safely beaming a diffuse stream of power to earth is theoretically feasible. Consider the radio, television and other waves invisibly surrounding us at all times. With any luck, the successful space solar station operator will have a subsidiary revenue stream putting tanning salons out of business or treating seasonal disorders.
More on Space Solar Plans:
Japan's Moonshot? $21 Billion Invested in Space-Based Solar Power
Solar from Space? PG&E; Agrees to Buy Power from Satellites
Japan Hopes to Have Solar Power Transmission in Space by 2030
Orbiting Space Power Systems Would Convert Sunlight into Laser Beams
Could Solar Power Satellites Beam Down Gigawatts of Energy?
Palau and Pentagon Looking to Harness Solar Energy from Space