Beam me down: PG&E moves into space solar power

Posted by Wolfgang Gruener

San Francisco (CA) – This one may make you speechless. It is so obvious in its idea that you wonder why no one else has thought of it before, yet it sounds like a plot from a 1960s science fiction movie: Collect solar energy in space, convert it into radio signals, send it down to Earth and change it into electricity. Fascinating.

We hear about new innovative ways to create electricity in alternative, more environmentally friendly and more efficient ways at least a couple times every week. PG&E is a hot candidate for the prize for the most adventurous way so far: The company wants to provide solar power that has been sent from a satellite to Earth.

According to a company blog post, PG&E has contracted a Southern California-based Solaren, to deliver 200 megawatts of power within a 15 year period through Solaren’s satellites. Those satellites act as small solar power plants, convert it into radio frequency, send it to a base station on Earth, where it is converted to electricity.

There was no information how much energy may be lost during those conversions, but PG&E noted that “the solar energy available in space is eight-to-ten times greater than on earth.” Also, “there's no atmospheric or cloud interference, no loss of sun at night, and no seasons. That means space solar can be a baseload resource, not an intermittent source of power,” the company said.

One more advantage of space solar power is that it does not require the purchase of a lot of land, as real estate in space is still free, even if the development, construction, launch and operation of a satellite may justify the purchase of land. PG&E said that “Solaren needs to acquire land only for an energy receiving station. It can locate the station near existing transmission lines, greatly reducing delays that face some renewable power projects sited far from existing facilities.”

According to the agreement, Solaren will deliver space power to PG&E beginning in 2016.