Neoseeker : News : Pentagon researching feasibility of space-based, strategic solar power array
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Shadow of Death Oct 15, 07
This has been proposed before, I believe...the main problem is safely getting the energy back down to Earth...we can use microwaves, but if the target is off even a little, it can possibly fry the surrounding area...That is to say, we could have microwaved people >_>

It is risky, but it could be useful, if they can get it working safely, and fairly efficiently
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iamjoe56 Oct 15, 07
What about simply using a high energy laser to transfer the engergy?
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Cillchaoi Oct 15, 07
Refraction due to the atmosphere is the short answer. In a perfect vacuum, a laser would fire straight but going through an atmosphere, the laser would be refracted and, thus, its trajectory to its target changed. Further, as the makeup of the atmosphere is not constant (due to pollution, humidity present, atmospheric pressure, etc.) aiming a precise beam would not be a likely candidate for successful transmission of energy to a specific, discrete target. Thus, a more imprecise transmission such as radio waves, microwaves, or other signal would be more successful, though the loss of potential due to propagation of the waves would be something to be considered as well. There is an indirect relationship between the square of the distance between transmitter and receiver and the amount of energy received. At a range of 1 meter from the source, an observer would receive 4 times as much energy as an observer 2 meters away and 9 times as much as an observer 3 meters away. Thus, for comparison's sake, if we say that at 1 mile from the transmitter 10,000 KWs was available, at a distance of 100 miles, only 1 KW would be available.

Therefore, there are some issues that need to be considered before this becomes a viable alternative. I like the idea but there needs to be some additional engineering to be performed.
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MicahWrites Oct 16, 07
It is a very old idea. But some recent ideas (millions of small solar panels in a pseudo ad-hoc array) do suggest that it could provide a large amount of energy for human use.

The conveyance of that energy back to earth is that biggest hurdle though. Baring a really long extension cord (the resistance in that would be quite high over the 100 plus miles it would stretch), microwaves are the only other alternative. Additionally, the ground based infrastructure would be expensive. In the end, the cost per-watt (kilowatt or megawatt) would be far in excess of what we pay for out earth based power.

A far better idea would be increased funding and investment in solar, wind and wave power generation.

For one, if solar panels increased in efficiency and decreased in cost it would become far more feasible for home owners to plaster their rooftops with solar panels. Personally, if I could afford the $25,000 to $50,000 bucks to do so, I would have a solar panel roof. The return on investment would take several years or longer but would be worth it from an environmental point of view.

Wind power is efficient. Government should approach farmers in prairie provinces/states to offer tax breaks for wind turbines to be built on the perimeter of their lands. Furthermore, if someone were to develop and market a discrete wind turbine for the residential homes of suburbia, that could help to provide (a modest amount of) energy.

As for waves, there is more than enough energy in the world oceans to power all of the planet more than ten times over. There are a few companies building wave power generators, though few are in use. Coastal countries and communities could supplement much of their power needs with waves.

There's tones of solutions here on earth, we just have to start investing in and using them. Once we do, the cost of those technologies will fall, adoption and use increases, driving the price down ever further.

Example; I had read somewhere that if all the interstate highways in the US were made from solar panels, it could provide more than enough electricity for the entire United States and then some.
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Galacticdramon Oct 16, 07
It sounds like a good idea, if - and this is a big if - part of the energy will be used, as the early part of the report implies, for international civilian energy. If it's going to be used exclusively to fuel the military power of one nation, it'll be a breeding ground for wars, but if it's going to be used to supply energy to people in different countries, it'll very effectively avert an energy crisis and an energy cost crisis at once.
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kspiess Oct 16, 07
Hmm.. well, according to the report, they think that getting 80 to 90 % efficiency out of microwave power transfer from the solar arrays to the Earth is feasible. I haven't looked in to that too much though, I can not say whether that is reasonable though...
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kspiess Oct 16, 07
^^Galacticdramon

Ya, it could definetely cause more aggression than peace, if the US were to only supply power to their own military, and the military of ally countries. A situation where the world is running out of gasoline and only the US has an abundant energy supply is pretty unsettling.

Hopefully the US would go the route of just trying to make a massive amount of money off of such a thing, if they built it, instead of using it as strategic resource.

I think its potential as a strategic resource is also a bit overstated by the report, just due to the fact that an array of this size would be very susceptible to already existing, and near-upcoming, anti-satellite missiles (already demonstrated by China) and anti-satellite space-based beam weapons (as ridiculously science fiction as that sounds, it is really not far off.)

It would only take one missle to get through to blow up this entire many-billion dollar power generator, so hopefully it would be used as a 'war averter' (as the tone of the article suggests), instead of a cold-war style arms-race tactic.
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MicahWrites Oct 16, 07
I don't know if I should mention this, but...

The Alberta Tar Sands in northern Alberta, Canada, has enough oil to supply the entire world for 300 years at our present rate of consumption. There's actually more oil up there than in the middle east. Central Canada used to be an ocean during the days of Pangea (the one super-continent that existed during the days of the dinosaurs). All those dead dinosaur fish are now Alberta oil.

I just hope the US doesn't invade Canada when the middle east runs out of crude. At least, I don't think they will.
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Galacticdramon Oct 16, 07
^^ kspiess

That's what I mean. If the US supplies a lot of nations, they won't be envious and go to war with the US over it - the opposite may happen. It could really ease tensions with America and, in turn, her allies, thus resulting in more peace. It's a great idea, and one which could really help to achieve peace, so I think it's definitely worth considering.
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DeathMonkey Oct 16, 07
Why aren't they using that lot of oil in Canada? Also the world's rate of consumption is going waaay up.
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kspiess Oct 16, 07
^^Oh they're using it. A lot of oil comes out of Alberta.

Galacticdramon: Ya, I totally agree.
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MicahWrites Oct 16, 07
There is a lot of oil in northern Alberta, but it's all mixed with sand and rocks, hence the name 'The Alberta Tar Sands'.

It's pretty easy to fill up a haulage truck (200,000 plus bucket capacity) with tar sand, but getting the sand out of the oil is difficult, time consuming and expensive. The oil in the middle east is in large underground caverns. Not a cave per-say, but a really big blob of oil down in the earth. They force in pressurized water (in most cases) to displace the oil and force it to the surface. It's important to replace the oil with something as any void left could result in a really big sink hole, perhaps something the size of Hawaii. There are some systems that simply use pumps, but it depends entirely upon how the oil is stored underground.

There is a method being used in Alberta that employs pressurized water to force oil to the surface of the land. They then scoop off that unctuous dirt and separate the oil. There's other methods that use steam to heat the oil and carry it away as a film on the hot water vapor. Unfortunately, both of these methods are in their infancy and used only on a small experimental scale. The conventional method; dig up oily dirt and filter out the rocks/dirt/sand works best.

Don't worry though. Someone will develop a method of extracting tar sand oil that will be cheap, efficient and quick. Then Canada will sit at the head of OPEC.

For reference, Alberta produces 1.2 million or so barrels of oil per day, the world consumes about 76 million barrels per day, and the US alone runs through 25 or so million barrels of oil per day.
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Cillchaoi Oct 16, 07
Micah, where do you get the figure that Alberta has enough oil to serve the entire world for the next 300 years? According to what I have been able to find through various sources, the oil reserves in Alberta are tolled at 179.2 billion barrels and worldwide daily use of oil is at 82.6 million. This means that, at that current rate of consumption, Alberta would serve the world for less than six years (precisely 5 years 11 months 14 days). Are you seeing different numbers than I am? If so, let me know what they are because the numbers I see here have been verified by a number of sources, not the least of which is the CIA World Fact Book.
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iamjoe56 Oct 16, 07
"I don't know if I should mention this, but..."

Anyone remember Alaska? Enough oil under their to supply the US for 10 years, people. Why is no one mentioning this?
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