The Goal for 2050 and the Build Forward
Posted by Coyote on August 7, 2007
Enthusiasts and Skeptics,
To give you a basis for analysis, by 2050 the goal is to have forty or so concentrator-photovoltaic space-based solar power (SBSP) satellites in geostationary orbit, each broadcasting via microwave between 2-5 gigawatts of power to terrestrial electrical power grids, with 1-to-5 broadcast antennas that can beam power to as many locations.
This must be done using a sound business case. John Mankins calculates that this can be achieved by keeping the costs of delivery and assembly on orbit below $3,500 per kilogram–keeping the cost to customers below $0.10 per kilowatt/hour. This will drive robotic assembly and tug systems to pull these enormous structures from low orbits to geostationary. On orbit fueling stations will be required. Paul Werbos believes the best way to do this is to get launch costs down below $200 per kilogram. But several other factors help make the business case. For example, if the price of other energy sources goes up it helps to close the business case for SBSP. Other factors include the efficiencies associated with solar collectors, energy conversion, antennas/rectennas, signal path loss, etc. Dennis Wingo and others have suggested that the first customers for space-based solar power will be international–in areas such as India and Japan where the price per kilowatt/hour is astronomical compared to the Americas or Europe. All of this goes into making the business case.
There will also be times when space-based solar power becomes priceless. When the Tsunami crushed the Pacific rim, when Hurricane Katrina flattened America’s Gulf Coast, and when United Nations forces responded to the beleaguered Darfur region the value of simply broadcasting power immeidately to the relief efforts would have been priceless in assisting the salvation of countless lives and facilitated the more immediate recovery of these disaster torn regions.
Keep in mind American and Allied forces operating inside Iraq. Convoying petroleum through the streets of Iraqi cities is a large source of casualties…and the electrical power plants that convert that petroleum into electricity are under frequent attack…and the lights go out…and the people aren’t happy. As I’ve mentioned before, one of our defense analysts calculated that the U.S. is paying between $300-to-$800 per gallon for fuel delivered to the Iraqi electric plants. Mike Hornetschek reports that 70% of all logistics movements inside Iraq is petroleum.
Inside Iraq, at this very moment–where people are dying–a supply of space-based solar power would have that priceless quality. And this is true wherever military forces and others are engaged not only in combat, but in nation building, humanitarian relief, disaster response, etc, etc, etc.
The question was posed to me today, “What does the military need.” Here goes:
According to Mike Hornitschek, a military base inside the United States consumes approximately 10 megawatts of electrical power. Forward military base overseas are consuming approximately 5 megaWatts of electrical power.
I need space-based solar power satellites of the 5 megawatt class. Let’s say by 2015. This capability will transform our logistics and reduce our vulnerabilities. The development of this class of space-based solar power satellite is designed to deliver that priceless quality of energy. Best of all, it can be done with current technology using current spacelift vehicles. Think about that.
But most important of all, developing the 5 megawatt class of satellite gets the ball rolling towards the 2050 vision that started this discussion. We WILL learn a great deal and we WILL find new efficiencies. We may make huge adjustments in the trade spaces as detailed in a previous discusion, and must be prepared to do so. In pressing ahead to field a 5 megawatt system, we will also be building the space industrial base and developing the rquisite spacefaring infrastructure to make the business case for the 2050 vision all the more viable.
There will likely be cities or regional utilities that will want to buy their own 5 megawatt satellite (or larger) as a backup, which will help the business case even more and give us a better look at problems that lie waiting for us as we build bigger systems.
The goal, then, for 2020 would be building/fielding a 10 megawatt system…1 gigawatt sytem by 2030…2-5 gigawatt system by 2040…on the way to fielding 40 2-5 gigawatt systems by 2050 as described above.
All the while the drive must be towards commercializing this effort at the earliest possible time. Energy must move at the speed and price established by free markets, not by government bureaucracy. To that end, I am working with Ed Morris and Mike Beavin at the Department of Commerce-Office of Space Commericalization to make this happen.