Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Response to ARPA-E RFI

Karen Cramer Shea


ARPA-E Request for Information: Space Solar Power

Executive summary

Space solar power is a scalable, base load, carbon emission free power source which has been overlooked in our search for alternatives to fossil fuels. Since its inception in 1968 only $80 Million has been spent to study and develop Space Solar Power as compared with $21 Billion for Fusion1. While both are power sources of the future, we know space solar power can produce more energy than it requires. It is time to invest in space solar power development.

"We can remain the world's leading importer of foreign oil, or we can become the world's leading exporter of renewable energy. We can allow climate change to wreck unnatural havoc, or we can create jobs preventing its worst effects. We can hand over the jobs of the 21st century to our competitors, or we can create those jobs right here in America.” President Barack Obama

The Case for Space Solar Power

Space solar power is the new technology the nation needs and the President has been looking for. The US needs new energy sources. The US used to be an energy exporter now we send billions of dollars every month abroad to supply our energy needs and our standard of living is faltering because of it. Conventional energy sources are being stretched to the limit and still three quarters of the human population lives with little or no electricity. Every energy option seems to fall short of a solution. Fossil fuels release carbon which seems to be causing climate change. Current renewable energy resources can not support base load power needs and make up a tiny fraction of our energy portfolio. Biomass might be used for base load but competes with food supply and may only transform energy from one form to another rather than produce energy. All of the Earth’s energy sources are being stretched to the limit and still not meeting demand. Prices are rising and the environment is suffering. We need to think outside of the box, beyond the limits of the Earth.

The Sun is a vast energy source which is the ultimate source of all power on Earth. What we need is a way to tap into the Sun’s energy directly. Putting solar collectors is space is the way to do this. Solar cells in space collect 7 times more power than those on Earth. This is because in space there is no night, no atmosphere, no weather, and the sun angle is always ideal because the collectors are always pointed at the sun.

Space solar power would collect solar energy in space and transmits it down to the surface of the Earth using microwaves or lasers. Power would be transmitted near end users, nearly anywhere on Earth. The solar collectors could be in low earth orbit, geosynchronous orbit or even on the lunar surface. In the beginning solar arrays would be manufactured on Earth and assembled in space. In the longer term solar arrays could be constructed on the Moon from lunar materials which would make this a virtually pollution free energy source.

Space solar power satellites were first proposed by Dr. Peter Glaser in 1968. The Concept was studied by DOE and NASA during the 1970’s. In 1975 Goldstone Deep Space Communications Complex did experiments in wireless power transmission. During the 1990’s NASA studied the space solar power. In 2007, the Pentagon’s National Security Space Office issued a report on space based solar power which included a discussion of using it to power forward military bases. In 2008 Discovery Channel did a special featuring John Mankins testing wireless power transmission between two Hawaiian Islands, a key space solar power technology. In 2009 Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) announced an agreement to by 2000 MW of space solar power starting in 20162. Also in 2009 the Japanese make space solar power a national priority and plan to spend $21 billion to build a space solar power satellite over the next 30 years3.

Space solar power already powers a hundred billion dollar industry, the satellite industry. We know we can build space solar power satellites and have for years. Satellites in space have used solar collectors for decades. We have shown we can wirelessly transmit power in the Goldstone test decades ago. We know how to build and deploy large structures in space, Sky Lab and the International space Station. Space solar power is not new and does not have any road blocks. Space solar power has not been deployed because there has never been enough money to determine the best way to deploy this transformational energy technology and bring down the cost to match terrestrial alternatives. Fusion has received over the $21 billion of funding for its development. While space solar power has only received $80 million almost none of that in the past decade. Even wood has been better at $95 million since 19854.

Space solar power is the Cinderella of alternative energy. The alternative no one talks about, hidden, wearing rags and starved. Like Cinderella, space solar power has enormous untapped potential which will remain dormant unless it is given the proper attention. It is time space solar power was invited to the Ball and given the resources to make a reasonable showing. ARPA-E support could bring this promising source of unlimited, carbon-free base load power over the threshold and into market deployment. Space solar power is the path back to American energy independence and allowing the US once again to become an energy exporter.

Why Space Solar Power Has Not Been Developed

The Giggle Factor – space solar power seems like science fiction; people have a difficult time taking it seriously.

Future Shock - we can not psychologically accept we are advanced enough to deploy space solar power, which becomes self-fulfilling.

The DOE Focus on Nuclear Technology - has a resulted in fusion receiving over the $21 billion of funding for its development. While Space solar power has only received $80 million almost none of that in the past decade1. Even wood has been better at $95 million since 19854.

Cheap oil - diverted attention from space solar power in the 1970’s and hopefully will not distract us again.


ARPA-E Aim - Enhance our economic security by identifying technologies with the potential to reduce energy imports from foreign sources

Space solar power will enhance American economic security by allowing the US to become a net energy exporter. Once our transportation system can be converted to electric vehicles, the US can stop importing energy entirely.

ARPA-E Aim - Reduce energy-related greenhouse gas emissions

Space Solar Power also has no greenhouse gas emissions

ARPA-E Aim - improve efficiency across the energy spectrum.

Space Solar Power improves efficiency across the energy spectrum because power from space can be wirelessly transmitted right where it is needed.

Once wireless power transmission technology is perfected and if it is sufficiently efficient, power could be beamed through space from one side of the Earth to another, creating a global wireless smart grid. This grid would be like the global communications system, transmitting power instead of information up to satellites and back down thousands of miles away.

ARPA-E Aim - Ensure we remain a technological leader in developing and deploying advanced energy technologies.

Space solar power will ensure the US remains a technological leader in developing and deploying advanced energy technologies. Developing space solar power will include research in solar technologies and wireless power transmission techniques.

ARPA-E Aim - Focus on high risk, high payoff concepts - technologies promising true energy transformations.

Space solar power is a high-payoff concept and promises true energy transformation since it would allow us to collect some of the yottawatts of energy, the Sun puts out.

The only part of ARPA-E’s mission that Space Solar Power doesn’t completely comply with is the high risk requirement. Space solar power is not high risk. The fact that it is not high risk is made evident by the number space solar power companies which have already been organized, for instance, Solaren already has a contract with PG and E. Other countries are also very interested; the Japanese plan to spend 21 billion dollars on development of a space solar power satellite.

The questions involved with space solar power now, are not if or how but who, when and how best.

- Which is the best type of solar collectors to use?

- Which type of solar cell best balances cost, mass and durability issues?

- Which is best wireless transmission method - lasers or microwaves?

- Where and how do we best build the receiving stations?

- Which manufacturing techniques are most scalable?

- Which frequency is best considering size, electronics, atmospheric and, International Telecommunications Union issues?

- What safety precautions need to be taken with space solar power?

- How best do we transmit the power from place to place?

- When in this century will the cost of energy rise high enough and Moore’s law reduce the cost of the technology sufficiently for space solar power to be profitable?

- Who will control space solar power?

- In 2050, will we be buying power from space from the Japanese in 2050 or selling it to Saudi Arabia?

- Which US agency, if any, will invest in space solar power?

Space Solar Power has suffered from a policy dilemma. The Department of Defense wants to use space solar power for forward bases but can not build it, since, it is clearly not in their mission and because they are looking at lasers and microwave beams for offensive military purposes. This makes DOD lead on this issue politically impossible. Though, the DOD is very interested in being a customer because space solar power would dramatically cut the cost of power in forward bases. Especially, the cost in lives as the generator fuel trucks are easy targets.

Space solar power is clearly within the mission of both NASA and the DOE. Unfortunately, NASA considers space solar power to be energy and the DOE has considered it to be space. Neither is funding space solar power research. Added to this, NASA is in crisis with the retirement of the Space Shuttle, while trying to operate the International Space Station and return to the Moon with a launch system with is behind schedule, over budget and loosing capability. The Augustine Committee is calling for a $3 billion increase in the NASA budget just to keep up with its current commitments. NASA clearly can not take the lead on this issue. As Dr. Scott Pace Director of the Space Policy Institute pointed out, “If an issue cuts across multiple categories and doesn’t fit into any one of them, that’s likely because it’s strategic.” Space Solar Power is clearly a strategic technology.

We need to answer The President’s call and find clean energy, renewable energy sources for America to control, to allow America to again become an energy exporter and to provide American jobs. Space solar power is that energy source. It is a scalable, base load, carbon free energy source which we can control. Now is time the Cinderella of alternative power was allowed to go to the Ball. ARPA-E could be space solar power’s fairy god mother and turn this scrawny, over looked child in rags into a shining jewel for the world to admire. A beauty, the prince (large investors) will fall in love with and have to have and then we will all live happily ever after, in a world with abundant clean power. Space solar power is a renewable source of clean energy which can be developed in the US, manufactured by US workers launched from US territory and export power to anywhere in the world. Space solar power is also nearly technologically ready to implement, is transformational, scalable, renewable, abundant and carbon emissions free.


1. Space-Based Solar Power As an Opportunity for Strategic Security, Phase 0 Architecture Feasibility Study, Report to the National Security Space Office, October 10, 2007 http://www.nss.org/settlement/ssp/library/nsso.htm

2. SPACE SOLAR POWER: THE NEXT FRONTIER? by: Jonathan Marshall on April 13, 2009, on the Next 100 (Pacific Gas and Electric’s Blog) http://www.next100.com/2009/04/space-solar-power-the-next-fro.php

3. Mitsubishi, IHI to Join $21 Bln Space Solar Project by Shigeru Sato and Yuji Okada on Bloomberg.com on August 31, 2009 http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=20601080&sid=aF3XI.TvlsJk

4. Pork Alert: Senate Agriculture Appropriations CAGW’s Pork PatrolSM Takes a Closer Look at Fiscal 2010 Agriculture Pork by Citizens Against Government Waste http://www.cagw.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=12186


Canada Guy said...

Space based solar power is an unrealistic solution. Not just because of the complexity and funding, but because so much energy and resources are required, compared to what you get back. We also need solutions today, not 20-50 years in the future. By then, there won't be much of a world left.


Karen Cramer Shea said...

Have you actually run the numbers?

I saw a paper at the ISDC suggesting that the energy payoff for a Solar Power Satellite was a matter of hours.

We would have space solar today if someone had funded it in the past, unfortunately they did not. The solution is to fund space solar power, now and fund it generously.