Energy From Space to Your Car
The concept of Solar Power Satellites has been around at least since Dr. Peter Glaser in 1968. Sunlight in Space is 8 times more intense than at Earth's surface. If large solar arrays were built in geosynchronous orbit, the energy could be beamed to Earth via lasers or microwaves. So far the idea has been considered impractical because of cost. With the rising cost of energy, SPS has been gaining attention again.
As with many new technologies, the military may take the lead. To power all their gear, infantrymen use the equivalent of one AA battery per hour. Many lives have been lost delivering fuel convoys to soldiers, not to mention USS Cole. The National Security Space Office (NSSO) is counducting a serious study of SPS. They are looking for breakthrough ideas.
The NewSpace2007 conference in Washington was presented by the Space Frontier Foundation, which has been studying SPS for years. Saturday at the conference I had opportunity to talk with USAF Col. (select) Coyote Smith, chief of the NSSO's future concepts division. He has been leading an online forum soliciting ideas. Col. Smith envisioned kilometer-wide collector fields located outside major cities. He hopes to have a SPS system online by 2050. (He likes the spacesuit too.)
I was able to point out that if someone in 1907 had lectured about the future of energy it would have been about coal and oil. Yet in 2005, out of the limelight, someone had already written E=mc^2. 40 years later we had atomic reactors and an atomic bomb used in combat. First we must go beyond dead ends like "dark energy." The power of free thinking will lead to technological surprises.
If in 40 years we have tiny Black Holes in the laboratory, their energy could be tapped. Even nuclear fusion converts only 0.7% of fuel into energy. A Black Hole can convert matter into radiation with 2 orders of magnitude greater efficiency, approaching total conversion. The food that a human eats in a year could provide all the electricity needs of the United States! Any sort of mass could be used for fuel, even old AOL disks and issues of National Geographic.
Solar Power satellites have not been deployed because of the immense construction costs. An SPS constellation powering the US would require 30-40 satellites, each with kilometers of solar arrays. Note how much trouble it has been constructing one space station in low Earth orbit. Black Hole energy would require just one satellite without all those solar panels! The power of thought is far greater than anything humans have imagined.
In other news, Toyota has announced it will be road testing a plug-in hybrid version of my Prius. Such a car could get at least 100 MPG, more if you only drive short distances. Plug-ins and battery cars can get their power from solar, wind or geothermal plants without any petroleum in the loop. Your 21st century economy could be clean and all-electric.
Tommaso Dorigo has an excellent post on Black Hole production.