Solar panel satellites, built in space by robots that beam power down to Earth – sound like science-fiction?
Well, even the team behind the idea admit it sounds “nuts” but that’s not going to stop them trying.
US Navy scientists are developing the project which in theory could power entire cities – or military endeavours.
What the panels could look like
The solar panels will be made up of two types of “sandwich” module to form a one-kilometre wide satellite.
Each module consists of a photovoltaic panel on top to absorb the Sun’s energy, an electronics system in the middle to covert it to a radio frequency and a bottom antenna layer to beam the power back to Earth.
Dr. Paul Jaffe, a spacecraft engineer at the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory (NRL), said: “`It’s hard to tell if it’s nuts until you’ve actually tried.”
“People might not associate radio waves with carrying energy, because they think of them for communications, like radio, TV, or cell phones.
” They don’t think about them as carrying usable amounts of power.”
The implications of successfully developing the technology are profound. Obviously it could solve many of our energy needs in an efficient and green manner.
But it could also enable a giant lumbering war machine – like the US Navy – to conduct global operations without the constraint of transporting and refuelling traditional fuels.
When you consider the Pentagon is the world’s largest consumer of energy (excluding countries) this will be of particular interest to US military planners.
Dr. Paul Jaffe
The technology is promising and has even spawned new ways of testing materials for space conditions.
Jaffe said: “One of our key, unprecedented contributions has been testing under space-like conditions.”
Using a specialized vacuum chamber at another facility would have been too expensive, so Jaffe built one himself.
He said: “It’s cobbled together from borrowed pieces.”
The vacuum chamber is just big enough for one module. In it, Jaffe can expose the module to the simulated extreme cold of space and concentrated solar intensities (mimicked by turning on two powerful xenon lamps in the same spectrum as the sun).
By hooking the module up to a tangle of red and blue wires, he measures how well it radiates heat.
Jaffe says most solar panels orbiting with today’s satellites are never tested in space-like conditions because the technology is already mature: “But if you wanted to test anything under concentrated sunlight you would need something like the simulator we’ve put together here.”
Through trial and error, Jaffe has learned a lot. “The capability we’ve built up with the testing and vacuum under sun concentration is something that’s pretty unusual.
“And we’ve actually gotten a couple inquiries from people who may want to use this.”
Garden State Solar
My first surprise: someone’s already a href=”http://www.mnn.com/eco-glossary/solar-power” target=”_hplink”talking up solar power in Jersey/a. Unfortunately, some sort of state ordinance apparently obliges solar companies to hire ad agencies staffed exclusively by people who have been in comas since the Carter presidency to produce their ads. Here’s a 2011 ad from Middleton, N.J., taking us back to the 1980s future.
Solon ‘HAIL’ Ad
Beaming in from the other side of the Atlantic – and from another, much more sophisticated universe, in terms of production values – a href=”http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lFJc4xuFPcc” target=”_hplink”here’s a big-budget two-minute spot from Germany’s Solon Energy/a. They spent so much on the filming, though, they must’ve run out of cash to fund a focus group, which would’ve surely told them that the best way to convince people of the merits of solar power might not be to lay ruin to their city in a biblical bombardment of batteries.
SolarCity – ‘Turn Sunshine Into Cash’
a href=”http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9gUMI6VCVkE” target=”_hplink”I had high hopes for this ad/a, which comes to us from the Bay Area’s top solar installer. And the first 15 seconds are as sharp and powerful as any you’ll find in cleantech, as rows of coal trucks hurry in reverse back to their mines and smoke hussles back down smokestacks. Alas, SolarCity seems to have handed the second half of the spot over to the same pack of defrosted Carter-era ad men who did Garden State Solar’s work. Great shots of those guys walking past a truck and then waving cheerily as they drive somewhere for some undisclosed reason. Really closes the proceedings on a high note.
SolarWorld – ‘It Starts At Home’
All in all, a href=”http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Uj1E8Swu5X0″ target=”_hplink”this is probably the strongest ad of the bunch/a in terms of focused messaging and stylish presentation. It does suffer a bit from PowerPoint disease, though – too much data in too many infographics that zip past far too quick to process – and it closes with somewhat generic livin’-the-good-suburban-life images that could be advertising anything from low-fat food to life insurance. Has no one in the solar industry ever heard of a climax?
Queensland Government’s Johnny Nash Ad
Sunny Australia’s been a world leader in solar research since NASA first installed panels at remote outback spacecraft tracking stations in the 1950s, but it’s been a laggard in actual PV installations, a href=”http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solar_power_by_country” target=”_hplink”ranking behind such noted sun destinations as Belgium and the Czech Republic/a in actual solar generating capacity. For whatever reason, though, Australian governments love to make pro-solar ads. Here’s one that encapsulates all the generic arguments, all to the all-too-familiar strains of Johnny Nash’s “I Can See Clearly Now.”
Indian Solar Ad
The Indian government is in the midst of a href=”http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702303745304576356740170323036.html” target=”_hplink”an ambitious push into the front ranks of the global solar market/a, and apparently the state government of Bengal (I think) is touting solar panels as lifestyle accessories for the emerging middle class. My Bengali’s not what it could be, but if I follow the story line correctly, ta href=”http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nLIiwlENKwo” target=”_hplink”he happy family in this ad/a trades their ailing matriarch for a sizeable solar array – which, I have to admit, is probably the more prudent choice, fiscally speaking.
Vintage ’80s Solar Ad
Embedding’s blocked for this one, so a href=”http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yBeVBUACqFc” target=”_hplink”click here to learn how our solar future looked from the Texas ranchlands of the 1980s/a.
I don’t know who this Dale Robertson is, but it seems likely he was one of the less celebrated Ewing cousins on the hit 1980s drama “Dallas.” Disgruntled at being cut out of the family’s fictional oil fortune, he appears to have wandered off into the Texas countryside to deliver rambling monologues about solar power. “Can’t think of anything . . . more . . . reasonable than that.”
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