PG&E has already sought approval from the California Public Utilities Commission for a power purchase agreement (PPA) with Solaren Corporation for buying up to 200 MW of Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) eligible energy from solar panels in space over a 15 years period. The project could go live in June 1016.
According to the application document, the space solar project would send its power to a ground receiving station in Fresno County, and “if completed by 2016, the project would deliver an average of 850 GWh for the first year of the term, and 1700 GWh per year over the remaining term of the PPA.”
“If successful, the Solaren project will provide baseload power from a space-based technology that collects solar energy as it travels in a geosynchronous orbit and converts the energy into radio frequency (RF) power for transmission to a receiving station located in Fresno County, California. The RF power will then be converted to renewable electricity for delivery to PG&E and its customers,” writes PG&E.
“According to Solaren, in 2008, Dr Neville I. Marzwell from NASA JLP [Jet Propulsion Laboratory] conducted a Discovery Channel wireless power transmission demonstration using ground solar cells to generate electricity to drive an SSPA array and transmit RF energy a distance of 92 miles (148 km) between two Hawaiian Islands. Dr Marzwell’s demonstration achieved greater than 90% conversion efficiency of RF energy to electricity.”
PG&E further sates that “as a concept, SSP [space solar power] is clearly an emerging technology,” even though it has been researched in the USA for more than 40 years already.
“Space solar technology is based on components that are in use today or being developed for use with satellite communications, radar systems, and other applications. Consistent with its designation as an emerging technology, these components must be engineered, studied, manufactured and integrated into large-scale SSP satellite and ground system architectures,” PG&E says in its application.
Space solar power could work
“We’re convinced it’s a very serious possibility that they can make this work,” PG&E spokesman Jonathan Marshall told the San Francisco Chronicle. “Its staggering how much power is potentially available in space. And I say ‘potentially’ because a lot remains unknown about the cost and other details.”
According to the Californian daily, Solaren has expressed it has not yet decided whether to use crystalline silicon or thin-film, but that it can say something on the safety or sending electricity from space to earth. The beam would not be a ‘super lazer-beam,’ but a diffuse RT transmission that would not hurt birds or airline passengers.
The problems with the project, were cited as the risk and costs associated with launching equipment into space.
Solaren was founded in 2001 and the space solar power project with PG&E would be Solaren’s first, and possibly also the world’s first space-based solar power project other than those powering space applications. Solaren reportedly has experienced satellite engineers and space scientists among its workforce. The specialists have been recruited from aerospace organisations such as the US Air Force, Hughes Aircraft Company, Boeing and Lockheed Martin.