Japan Pushes Forward on Plans for a Giant Solar Power Farm in Space

By Andrew Moseman | November 9, 2009 6:13 pm

Space solar425Refusing to cave to the “that’s far too crazy to ever work” crowd, Japan took a step forward this week in the country’s scheme to develop a giant solar power station in Earth orbit. JAXA, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, selected major Japanese firms like Mitsubishi Electric, Fujitsu, and Sharp to help develop the gargantuan project.

JAXA wants a system that can produce 1 gigawatt of electricity by 2030, and at one-sixth the cost Japan currently pays for electricity. The solar cells would capture the solar energy, which is at least five times stronger in space than on Earth, and beam it down to the ground through clusters of lasers or microwaves. These would be collected by gigantic parabolic antennae, likely to be located in restricted areas at sea or on dam reservoirs [AFP]. There the energy would be converted to electricity.

Japan isn’t alone; California utility Pacific Gas & Electric asked for regulatory approval of a similar project in April, though both schemes must confront a mountain of challenges. Sending equipment up to space is one. Operating and maintaining the system cost effectively is another. How about minimizing losses during conversion and transmission of energy [Greentech Media]?

And even if space solar power works, proponents might need to hire some talented public relations professionals: JAXA said the technology would be safe but conceded it might have to dispel fears of laser beams from above roasting birds or slicing up aircraft in mid-air [Sky News].

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Image: Institute for Unmanned Space Experiment Free Flyer

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment, Space, Technology
  • Gheorghe Curelet-Balan

    It looks like Japan has an efficient solution for conversion and beaming solar energy from space to Earth.

  • Wesley

    I wonder how they plan to protect it from space debris?

  • Rob

    @Wesley – probably the same way everything else is – monitoring what we can, moving out of the way when possible and hoping nothing bad happens ;)

  • Richard Stein

    How will they transmit the power back to earth? If by microwave, they better have foolproof aim, lest they miss their target and end up frying some people.

  • YouRang

    What are they going to do about eclipses? Are they going to locate it at near the Sun-earth L1 position and beam it via Earth-moon L4 or L5 positions and then on to a geostationary satellite? (I said “near the L1″ since L1 and 2 or the others are unstable.)

  • http://www.insideyourdiet.com Katie

    It might take some experimenting and it will have its fair share of problems, but fair play to them for trying. Who knows what other breakthroughs we’ll make because of this? Plus if we can start to harness the sun directly from space then we have a brilliant source of energy!

    As Richard said though, getting the power back to Earth is a bit worrying.

  • YouRang

    Maybe they could use the microwaves to charcoal some organic trash; charcoal is the best soil conditioner there is.

  • Section 8

    Bansai!

  • Mike

    Sure it’s cool and all, and anything is great that moves us away from all the soot and gas producing energy sources, but we have so many deserts that are perfect for solar farms, all nations should utilize those to capture power before we add more junk to space….it will wear out and become more junk one day….

    How about all high rises have wind turbines and solar collectors on them..turbines that spin in rivers and in the ocean, taking advantage of tides and waves. It’s insulting that every house in the developed world does not have a working wind energy capturing device on its roof. We could have had these technologies in place and working long ago.

    We sometimes seem to shoot “too high” – perhpas to outdo or impress other nations, when easier and cheaper solutions are right in front of us, in our backyards, on our roofs, etc.

  • Al

    Correct me if I am wrong, wouldn’t the net effect of capturing extra energy from the sun translate into increased heat generation when the energy is used on earth. This would add to the heat load and potentially increase global temperatures.
    The same could be said for solar collectors in desert regions since a significant amount of the sun’s energy hiting the desert is reflected back into space. Capturing that energy increases the heat load on the planet.

  • Art

    Is the net result always similar regarding alternative means of production?

    For example:

    Which uses more water; washing my hands the normal way, or manufacturing and using hand sanitizer, both of which require water?

    How much energy will be burned in the form of fossil fuels trying to get the solar collector into orbit, as opposed to just producing the energy on Earth?

    Maybe someone will read this:

    Please advocate single stream recycling and classified waste disposal!

    Why are we putting all of our trash in the same place when it could easily be separated?

    Why not start with the simple stuff then we can worry about putting giant solar cells into orbit?

  • bebop

    i think that the japanese are on the cutting edge of thinking outside the box. we have to think in untraditional ways to solve energy problems of the future. all life on this planet uses the power of the sun in some fashion ie: photosynthesis, to sustain life. we should be looking at solar power for a clean way to solve energy demands. we should be considering a multinational effort to set up photocells on the moon to direct energy back to earth. the waves can be directed at recipient dishes located in the polar regions, and redistributed to lessen environmental impacts.

  • Brian Too

    Who was that gentleman in the 1970’s, he had the idea of putting up space stations to collect solar power on a mass scale? The whole idea was a bit utopian; make energy so cheap it was almost free, then the whole world changes for the better.

    Anyhow this proposal sounds much like that earlier idea. Although I’m guessing that the JAXA system is unmanned and likely very much a for-profit arrangement. They’ve probably lost the utopian ideology too.

    Still it’s interesting that this idea may have legs after all.

  • http://fizik.us fizik

    I wonder how they plan to protect it from space debris?

  • Jarkko Nieminen

    >How about all high rises have wind turbines and solar collectors on
    >them..turbines that >spin in rivers and in the ocean, taking
    >advantage of tides and waves. It’s insulting that every house
    >in the developed world does not have a working wind energy
    >capturing device on its roof. We could have had these
    >technologies in place and working long ago.

    >We sometimes seem to shoot “too high” – perhpas to outdo or impress other nations, when >easier and cheaper solutions are right in front of us, in our backyards, on our roofs, etc.

    Those methods aren’t cheaper than 1/6 th of the current energy costs. Miniature wind turbines might actually take more energy to manufacture than they produce in their lifetime because their position is often far from optimum.

  • http://shineinnovations.com Ron Bennett

    Beam energy could work but not the way that the Japanese want to do it, way too expensive and to much mass to carry into orbit. Beam the energy from earth bounce it off a reflector back down to the customer.

    Imagine what all that money for the pipeline from nowhere could do, the 40 billion dollar Alaska 5,000 mile long pipeline, it could build hundreds of reflectors in space.

    Process the energy at the source and beam it to the customer. Pipelines loose over 13 percent of the gas they pipe, natural gas is 23 times more heat absorbing than CO2 therefore 23 times more dangerous global warming gas…..

    See Beamed energy here:

    http://shineinnovations.com/6112.html

  • Aussie John

    Would make a neat weapon if Japan fealt threatened. .

  • http://www.insight-consulting.us Ken

    The article says that the sun light is about 5 times stronger in space from a solar collector perspective. And while the cost of a program is not really discussed here, I would have to guess that generating power in this manner is going to be prohibitively expensive (as opposed to land based solar collection). I think this idea is great for when we finally develop colonies on the moon, but I can’t really see this approach displacing earth based energy collection methods due to the cost and potential complications.

  • Mike

    Jarkko – maybe you are right, but I would think/hope that scientist could figure it out and make it work. Maybe if our trillions of $ did not go to fund wars and could be used for research and development they could make it worth while. If we can use crazy math to describe parallel universes, worm holes and build complex probes that fly to Pluto, I think someone can figure out a decent wind power device for a roof of an average house. If we can’t then we are not as smart as we think we are and are doomed to be covered in coal soot and space trash.

  • http://slimtrimandripped.com James

    Even if this project is a failure, maybe it will inspire a competitive international solution to create an eventual long term success. Scientifically capturing the power of the sun’s energy may seem to be humorous because it’s a giant solar-panel up in space, but considering the demanding issues of energy use with a world population that continues to expand, it’s more than a serious issue.,

  • http://www.bradg.co.za Brad

    This sounds far too similar to a James Bond movie …. Golden Eye

  • http://www.ssi.org/ L5Rick

    This is a 40+ year old idea. We’ve been thinking about it for a very long time. Every objection you can think of has been raised and dealt with in detail before most of you were born.

    The power density is to low to fry anyone or anything.
    It can’t be used as an energy weapon.
    Every piece of technology needed to do it has been developed and is being tested right now.
    It will orbit at 22,000 miles above the equator, the same orbit as comsats and weather sats do now.
    Taking everything up from earth is OK to begin with, but in the long term we need to mine the moon and asteroids for the raw materials to build them.
    “That guy” in the ’70s was Gerard K. O’Neill, a Princeton physicist who asked his students where a technologically advanced civilization should be based? Their answer was “in high earth orbit. Read his books to understand his vision.
    That’s enough for a dead thread. Go visit SSI.ORG for more.

  • gudrun

    man, just think if that beam of microwave could target future tsunamis and vaporize them, that would be awesome

  • http://www.fixmyplasma.co.uk LCD TV Parts

    I visited a lot of website but I think this one holds something special in it in it

  • http://www.everythingipad2.com iPad 2

    It’s appropriate time to make some plans for the future and it is time to be happy. I’ve read this post and if I could I want to suggest you some interesting things or advice. Perhaps you could write next articles referring to this article. I want to read more things about it!

  • http://www.vautmans.com Peter Vautman

    Hmm trust the Japanese to go out and do something crazy like this – hopefully we’ll hear some sort of update soon

  • http://www.cureviewscam.com Consumer Reviews

    According to Bloomberg, Japan is working on developing the technology for a 1-gigawatt solar farm, consisting of four square kilometers of solar panels that will be stationed 36,000 kilometers above the earth’s surface. One gigawatt of generation capacity would be enough to supply around 294,000 average Tokyo homes.

    Prior to the deployment of the project, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), leaders of the project, will launch a small satellite decked out with solar panels in 2015 in order to test beaming electricity from space.

  • http://www.simpledatarecovery.com Data Recovery

    Clean energy is highly necessary. We just do not have an unlimited supply of crude oil. That’s just the hard truth about thematter.

  • http://www.registryrepairsolutions.com Joseph

    Japan has to get off their reliance on nuclear energy, and this is a very cool way to do so.

  • Jonny

    @Art Because you don’t realize that computers don’t sort garbage and recycling, carbon-based bipeds called “humans” do and humans get bored, frustrated, tired and even lazy about basic recycling let alone anything more complex.

    @YouRang Your knowledge of Langragian points is commendable and sets an intellectual example for everyone. The biochar proposal sounds crazy and radical, which is probably why it would work.

    @Wesley By “Death Ray” of course

    @Mike Anti-coal and anti-oil propaganda doesn’t serve real technological progress. Personally I find it useless to complain about space junk, desert junk, air pollution, light pollution. Pointing-out problems makes very little progress. You sound like you need a wonderful purpose and direction, may I recommend to you the Mars Society which would enable you to make a real and tangible contribution that has nothing to do with oil and soot.

    @Ken Makes you wonder why Japan is so committed to such a “crazy” idea, but then they have very little land-mass to work with required by the alternatives.

    @Data Recovery Shale oil will be a new and interesting challenge to tackle. The Alberta Tasiuk Process claims to require almost no water for processing, very impressive. I also find it amusing that Russians generally like Thomas Gold’s deep hot biosphere theory and North Americans ridicule that same theory.

    @Joseph Japan doesn’t have to get off their reliance on Nuclear energy, they have to get off their reliance on Nuclear technology that leads to radioactive leaks due to earthquakes. Advancements in Nuclear power generation aren’t even remotely exhausted.

  • http://www.4dietreview.com Rich

    Interesting idea – I’ve read about this before, but I think the cost/benefit is way off. As Japan sits along many faults I’d think they’d work on developing geothermal technology. The sun may be a great source of energy, but the earth is too, and it’s much closer and more accessible.

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