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By Victor T. Barrera on Apr 30, 2009 with 39 responses

Sci-Fi Meets Cleantech: Space Based Solar Energy Becomes a Reality

Like something straight out of a science fiction novel, renewable energy company SolarEn plans to launch solar panel arrays into space to capture the rawest form of solar energy and send it back down to earth.

solar_panel_satelliteSolar energy innovations have been brewing across the board the past couple of decades; but it’s recently been made known this week that solar technology company, SolarEn, has struck an agreement with California’s Pacific Gas and Electric company to achieve something new and dynamic within the renewable energy industry. SolarEn has come up the zealous goal of launching solar panel laden satellites into orbit that will then capture the rawest forms of solar radiation from more than 22,000 miles above the Earth.

Transporting the solar technology itself into space can be done utilizing existing rocket technologies, but it’s transferring the energy back into power grids on earth that really seems like the most intriguing part of all of this.

SolarEn expects to start beaming down electricity to earth by 2016.

The company plans to convert the captured solar energy into radio frequencies that would then be sent back to earth. This sounds like the kind of stuff we’d see in the science-fiction world, but this fantasy is steadily turning into a reality. Marking the first real attempt at tapping into the ceaseless potential energy stream in space that the sun provides, SolarEn plans to initially provide 200MW of electricity to Pacific Gas and Electric utilizing their new method.

Although not exactly a new concept, sending solar energy technology into space this time around has a lot more promise. Plans by the US Government to achieve the same thing have been undertaken by NASA and the Pentagon as early as the 1960′s. Critics cite the costly nature of sending the satellites into space; but SolarEn ensures that their technology is commercially viable unlike any previous endeavors trying to achieve the same thing.


Here's a diagram that illustrates the basic concept of the proposed space based solar array. SolarEn also cites the higher energy potential of the raw solar energy available in space, noted by the color intensity of the orange.

Another top concern that SolarEn must engage in is the perception that the RF signals transferring the solar energy could interfere or adversely affect things here on the surface. SolarEn’s founder, Gary Spirnak, explained that the technology they’re going to use has been developed and implemented through other communication satellites. The near constant stream of energy traveling back to Earth by way of RF signal won’t present any cause for worry, Spirnak assured. Spirnak went on to explain that humans won’t be affected and that planes could fly through the signals without a hitch.

The sheer energy generation potential that lies in space could very well be where solar energy needs to make its future.

It’s estimated that the raw, unfiltered solar radiation from the sun provides nearly ten times the energy compared to the sun’s rays that current technologies capture. SolarEn’s agreement with the PG&E is currently pending review by regulators from the California State Government; it’s likely this proposal’s purported technological feasibility is a reason that it might actually stick.

But, as with any daunting renewable energy project, it all comes down to funding. The average renewable energy project of this magnitude would ordinarily cost somewhere around $200m, but because of the technology, Solaren expects that it would need funding within the range of a few billion to get this project off of the ground.

  1. By JOhn Davis on April 30, 2009 at 4:00 pm

    Wow, looks like they are on to something here!

  2. By Mike G on April 30, 2009 at 4:12 pm

    This is a terrifying scheme. Let me give you the rundown. This company is trying to set up solar panels in the earths orbit to beam down cheap renewable energy via large satellites equipped with photovoltaic. This is a giant scheme to end the earth. Do not let these people go through with this, it could spell the end for all of us.
    Step 1: Launch multiple satellites into orbit. Begin collecting and selling solar electric to different countries.
    Step 2: amass enough of these photovoltaic satellites so that they can blot out the sun over certain areas of earth, thereby destroying any agricultural production in said country or area.
    Step 3: make the location that is being blotted out pay exorbitant amounts of money to stop this activity from occurring.
    Step 4: New allocation national wealth leads this company to complete economic domination of the earth, and corporate greed leaves nations penniless, and barren.

  3. By Driver C. on April 30, 2009 at 4:49 pm

    This is to mike G….are you really serious?

    Do you know how much it would cost a nation, yet alone the world to put up enough satellites to blot out the sun?

    compare a beach ball to a marbel….the marbel is the size of the Earth. How the hell they gonna block out the sun?
    I read into this things already..they are so far up that the amount of light it blocks is low…very low…not even noticeable on a light meter.

    I say its a step in the right direction. This world needs to stop depending on fossil fuels and nuclear power. I say put enough of these in space, people pay for only the maintenance of the system and not the actual power…because its being produced for free. 2016 is a longish time from now…they need to speed this up a bit…the world is slowly choking to death…

  4. By Zapp on April 30, 2009 at 4:51 pm

    It will be even more terrifying when the aliens arrive and cripple our power infrastructure without even having to enter the atmosphere.

    In all seriousness, several billion just to evaluate feasibility for something that might eventually produce only 200 MW? And it is utter, complete nonsense to state that 200 MW of RF energy will not affect anything.

    Just build an AP1000 with your “few billion” and get a recognized, reliable source of 1100 MW.

  5. By James T. on April 30, 2009 at 5:01 pm

    Mike G…
    I cannot believe the immense stupidity of your 4 step process, I mean, really, I think I am actually a little dumber for having read it. Do you have any idea the size/number of these photovoltaic satellites would need to be to cast a shadow on ONE farm? let alone a state or country? In the event that you are not sure…
    In order to block out the sun over, say Washington DC, you would need a photovaltaic satellite or cluster of them covering an area of 2,000 square miles (the size of Delaware) , AND ONLY when they are directly aligned over DC. SO.. at best 2 hrs of sun blockage, hardly enough to ‘cripple’ a nation or farm. Assuming, and completely trying to help you out here… one of these has a 1square mile solar panel at $200million dollars, a company/country would need $400,000,000,000 dollars, to shade DC for 2 hrs.

    Sharks with freekin lasers would be a better plan.

    ASIDE… this really does look like it has some potential.

  6. By Paul on April 30, 2009 at 5:43 pm

    Mike G, your understandings of physics is somehow really funny.

    “mass enough of these photovoltaic satellites so that they can blot out the sun over certain areas of earth, thereby destroying any agricultural production in said country or area.”


  7. By Jose R on April 30, 2009 at 5:53 pm

    Mike G, It is evident that your brainpower isn’t renewable.

  8. By Ryan C on April 30, 2009 at 6:00 pm

    Mike what are you smoking? If this kind of venture had enough profit potential to pay for the launch of enough solar cells to blot out the sun they could stand to make far more profit by creating a partial dyson ring of solar cells (in an orbit around the sun just small enough to be out of our way) than mere blackmail could provide. Recycle your tin foil hat and put the troll weed down!

  9. By darrel on April 30, 2009 at 7:12 pm

    seriously, i don’t think even Mike G is that stupid. some people just like to get all the other chickens in the pen to ruffle their feathers. i sort of enjoy watching the mayhem myself. heh, very nice.

  10. By xeer on April 30, 2009 at 7:17 pm

    @Mike G: paranoid much??

  11. By Matt on April 30, 2009 at 9:02 pm

    It’s pretty simple. This will never happen. They said nuclear fusion was going to be the technology of today, fifty years ago. Today the say that we will have nuclear fusion as an energy source in 2050. it won’t happen. Neither will this ridicules, and expensive beaming of energy. However if it were to happen, i am sure there would some sort of monopoly and eventually the conflict would result in world war three…. and the end of the world. Mike G. is right. It is dangerous

  12. By Anty J. Boot on May 1, 2009 at 5:11 am

    No, WWIII will start over Moon’s supply of He3. This is where it’s at, boys and girls. He3, it is said, is an ideal fuel for fusion reactions. Apparently, there’s talk of a space ladder, a wire hanging up in the sky between Moon and Earth’s geostationary orbit. China, Russia and India are all revving up for moon mining.

  13. By Michael on May 1, 2009 at 9:34 am

    Interesting project. If they can get it operational by 2016, looks like PG&E has committed to a 15 year agreement to have Solaren Corporation beam them this solar energy. By the way, Solaren Corp. is a California startup company (no website as of today). The link in the article goes to SolarEn LLC, a company in Armenia.

  14. By Jim on May 2, 2009 at 9:18 am

    Does anybody know if they plan to reflect all that glare out into space? The last thing we need is some new blotch of ugly light screwing up what’s left of the view of the night sky. As it is, we stargazers have to drive for hours to find a dark spot for viewing. Locating a big bright apparatus in a permanent orbit would ruin the small amount of opportunities left.

  15. By Cpt.Nimo on May 3, 2009 at 10:10 pm

    The energy used up launching al those sats. would be a big waste. better off cleaning the air using solar energy to split water to power cities and air control systems. excess oxygen could be pumped back into the atmosphere to help replenish the ozone layer.

  16. By Victor T. Barrera on May 4, 2009 at 4:09 am

    @Michael: The website I linked to is the same company (by way of Armenia). SolarEn just hasn’t built up a website showcasing their new found venture here in the states, that’s all.

  17. By GMDuggan on May 6, 2009 at 12:36 am

    Didn’t I see a show on TV last year where a team demonstrated the transfer by radio wave theory? Glad to see that movement is happening towards this technology.
    The danger in the plan is not blotting out the sun for an area, but what happens if you enter or cross the beam. They claim safe. Care to sit in front of a microwave antenae?

  18. By Kim on May 6, 2009 at 2:47 pm

    22,000 miles is not geosynchronous orbit .

  19. By Leiter T'Joners on May 6, 2009 at 11:43 pm

    Too much radio waves could actually be too harmful to trust to the ever failing human. Someone might also get too hot, if placed in those radio waves.

  20. By Uncle B on May 7, 2009 at 8:13 am

    Nice idea. The Chinese intelligentsia may or may not agree, and since they have to give the nod for loans this big, or to do anything, before it can happen, we Americans will have to wait and see! If they allow us to do the grunt work, and build this with their money, I will be very suprised, as they have an active Space program of their own! America is broke, in debt to China and Japan for astounding amounts, and cannot afford to maintain the current lifestyle, and you dream about, and even fear, fanciful “Space-Power” notions? Do you believe in the bogey man too? Get real! the great republican depression is upon us, we have given away our future money to the banks to survive for one more day, and are dying fast – Take a Realistic look at Detroit City! Check out the great recovery of New Orleans! Atlanta is out of water and on the brink! California proposes smoking dope and taxing it just to get by! We can’t build a decent car in this country for the common folk, and the Uber-Rich American capitalists have fled to the Shanghai market, converting their riches to the “Yuan” a bet they must consider better than the dollar or they would have stayed at home! There is no way in Hell Americans could finance day-dreams like this! This is bullshvt vapor-ware just like the Chevy “Volt” a miracle car to save our souls from the mighty and now defunct GM!

  21. By lord voldemort on May 9, 2009 at 9:10 am

    icant believe how stupid ur are MIKE. G i thought i was stupid for posting stupid comments and you are just a billion times more dummer than me

  22. By make money online on May 9, 2009 at 3:57 pm

    and I will call this technology a laser. and I will hold the world ransom for……. 1 million dollars.

  23. By Mr Moisha on May 10, 2009 at 8:56 am

    Welp… lemme get my thinking cap on here.
    All this sounds good but first i’d like to see a space shuttle or the space station try this first. Even if its at a smaller scale. I do have concerns of whatever energies making its way through the atmosphere will have. Be it man made or just a natural occurrence we do have holes in the atmosphere. Will this increase any possibilities of making more holes? Radio frequencies are sound as is the heavy bass from a speaker. Will this sound have any disruptive forces against the atmosphere? Take a piece of paper and place it in front of a speaker. It rattles. Face it to a pond and you make ripples. Will this frequency have any effect on this “fluid” we call the atmosphere? Isn’t it really just silly to say “They said its safe”? Cigarettes were said to be safe and even healthy to smoke.

    I say just test it first. And you can’t really test that down here now can you? Or can you?

  24. By land trust on May 13, 2009 at 2:15 am

    Believe it or not not all power is used in the American southwest where sun is plentiful

  25. By Robert on May 13, 2009 at 7:04 pm

    Science futurism comes to life! An online game talked about collecting solar power out in space and beaming it back to planets, and now we’re about to have it in real life. Guess the “environmentalists” will soon have to add this kind of solar power to their list of energy sources to complain about before too long.

  26. By debt improvement on May 14, 2009 at 11:42 am

    Already saw it on the Discovery Channel nothing new here.

  27. By ppc management on May 15, 2009 at 3:09 am

    Plus the space hamburgers grill 10X faster

  28. By search engine script on May 16, 2009 at 1:18 am

    I was half hoping the energy is stored in energon cubes.

  29. By Itchyfinger on May 19, 2009 at 12:42 am

    Mike G is probably one of those born-again Fundamentalist Christians, and expects satellites will be deployed to blot out the sun soon after a world dictator gives everybody “666″ tattoo! It would be funny, if such morons didn’t have the ear of lawmakers and national policymakers.

  30. By solar training on June 10, 2009 at 5:38 am

    Sounds great. As long as they don’t use it as a weapon like in James Bonds Moonraker haha

  31. By Tony Rusi on November 18, 2009 at 9:58 pm

    Here is something new for ya! Solar PowerSATs don’t have to be huge megaprojects. You can start off small. As little as 2.5 kW could be beamed down to regular solar panels on Earthships when they don’t get enough power from the sun, like almost every winter in Seattle! Pretty soon when we have solar-electric cars, you could beam power to them too, as well as aircraft and spacecraft. Large 5 GW rectennas could have algae greenhouses under them that use the 10% waste heat to grow algae that can be turned into medicine, plastics, cosmetics, and food additives. In other words, it can replace oil.

  32. By Attic Fans on February 7, 2010 at 4:35 pm

    Why are posts like this written – without further followup? Don’t you feel like we are left hanging?

  33. By guest from reality on February 23, 2010 at 7:53 am

    Okay, I can’t let armchair physicists rule the day here. Mr Moisha, Radio waves are NOT sound waves. Just because the “radios” in your car and home play music and talk shows doesn’t mean that the music (sound waves) had to travel all the way from the concert where it originated. Besides, just think about how loud that would have to be at the point. I hate to break in reality here, but radio waves are electro-magnetic radiation, just like sunlight, and gamma rays, and the dreaded microwaves. We transfer energy wirelessly all of the time using all sorts of radiation. It is all around you and through you and there is not much you could do about it. Think about cell phones, radio towers, doppler radar, Wi-fi hotspots and hundreds of other applications. Should you be worried? Mostly no. Don’t build a house under power lines, don’ t shut yourself in a microwave, don’t put your genitalia in front of a high powered radio tower. You know, common sense. The transfer of power by wireless means is nothing new. The real challenges are building efficient enough solar cells, efficient dc to ac converters. Those technological leaps are twenty years away from todays standards. That said, in thirty to fourty years, this technology will most likely be employed along with every other method we can find in order to satisfy the worlds growing thirst for electricity. Why don’t we all focus our creativity and negativity on solving that problem instead of wasting our time on this thread.

  34. By russ on April 5, 2010 at 12:42 am

    As İ remember, PG&E just said they would buy the power if the cost was reasonable. Something to pacify the greenies while committing to nothing.

    When you can get 1000 watts/m2 here on earth or 1500 watts in space which one seems more cost effective. Actually that may be in the 10 to 15% range (what you capture on earth as compared to space) but the space based installation will be much more costly than that.

  35. By Mr Moisha on April 14, 2010 at 7:11 am

    guest from reality…
    I understand what you are saying and as a general rule I agree. But i’ve one minor sticking point. All those radio waves you are talking about happen below our atmosphere. The magnetism from the earth is helping to block out most radio waves or am I wrong? I know i’ve heard that when a solar flare comes and some of it does get through the atmosphere it wacks our own signals under the atmosphere. Do we even know what type of radio wave is supposedly going to make it’s way through?

  36. By whoa on May 26, 2010 at 11:15 am

    To the paranoiacs: You don’t have to put them in orbit around the planet, fools. You can place them in SOLAR orbit, a few hundred thousand miles away so they never interfere with our solar interaction. They could then beam to a polar moon base which then beams the energy to a polar base on earth. That energy could fuel conversion of electrical energy to chemical energy. That chemical energy is used for everything. Ideally this chemical energy would be hydrogen, but methane/ethane could suffice… This is not a new idea. But “Blocking out the Sun” is really crazy thinking…

  37. By John on June 8, 2010 at 12:15 pm

    If we could build a surface big enough to reduce the light to even a very small area on the surface of the planet it would take a crew of several million workers. If we could afford that, why bother with extortion.

    And why on Earth (pun intentional) would we NOT put it in between the Sun and the Earth and use it to reduce the solar energy by that minuscule smidgen and ameliorate the effect of Climate change

  38. By Thomas on June 16, 2010 at 1:20 pm

    A sat of this type would harvest light traveling parallel to the earth. So dark spots would not be possible. Otherwise it wouldn’t work when it was night time on the ground which is the whole reason you put it in space. It may be visible in the night sky depending on the geometry of the PV array. If you think about it fisson, fusion and space solar are all we have for sustainable base load power.

  39. By Chaitanya Patankar on September 25, 2010 at 4:51 am

    This takes solar electricity generation to a completely new level. Really wonderful & creative thinking. Seems like the transportation of electricity without wires can be made possible in the near future. We never know. But i wish to hear a lot of positive news about this.

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