Saturday, May 09, 2009
Space-Based Solar Power
PG&E has agreed to buy electricity from start-up Solaren. PG&E buys electricity from many sources. What's new here, is that Solaren plans to build their facility in orbit.
When Elon Musk got into solar cells, and electric cars, and low-cost orbital access, I told everyone I knew to watch for the the first commercial space-based solar power project to be announced. It's fun to be right.
Why do we need space-based solar power? You're going to hear many environmentalists and even my friends in the green/relocalization/power down movement get all up in your face and on the airwaves about what a bad project this is. What I hope we all come to realize is that the problem isn't that humans have an insatiable appetite for energy. It's that we use it so poorly, poisoning ourselves and dirtying our nest.
Environmentalists who have traditionally been anti-nuclear power have finally seen that it's a great alternative to fossil fuels. What they will hopefully see is that space-based solar power is an even better option, cleaner, greener, and more full of job opportunities and economic growth with far less risk than nuclear. Space-based solar power is less risky than even coal-fired plants.
This chart shows that, over time, we find more energy-dense sources and drive our standard of living higher. The saddle shape of each energy source (wood, coal, oil) reflects that it starts out expensive, leads to a nice decrease in cost, which then as the resource is used up (or replaced by a superior energy technology) increases again.
The only technology we've got that continues this trend is moving power generation off-planet.
The reason it's important to continue this trend, is there isn't a viable method to "conserve" our way out of the mess we're in. We've exported consumption idealism to the world. We didn't invent consumption; it's a ramped up version of celebrating abundance, which Life itself invented.
We can scale back, but the imperative of Life to grow and change become more complex and grander is unstoppable. As conscious beings, we get to choose how we focus on this imperative. We've done a poor(ish) job so far. We're realizing our choices have far-reaching consequences. So we need to find solutions that reduce the impact on the planet, on people, on the ability of future generations to care for themselves. The best solutions will be enabling technologies, creating the foundation for future abundance.
To reach these goals, our best choice is space-based solar power.