Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Innovative idea of the day: space-based solar energy

While the idea of capturing solar energy in space and transmitting it back to earth has been around for decades, it seems the idea is gaining traction in Japan as well as within the U.S. government (see the topic mentioned on the change.gov website here and the 2007 National Security Space Office report here).

There are a lot of potentially interesting hurdles to explore with respect to this extremely nascent technology, but I'd like to focus on the contrast between the Japanese and U.S. approaches to space-based solar for a minute.

First, notice the dollar (or yen) figures involved. The U.S. has spent $80 million over three decades studying the feasibility of space-based solar (SBS). Japan has committed the equivalent of $21 billion (over 260 times what the U.S. has spent) to develop and build a SBS station over the next three decades. So it seems likely that if SBS ever becomes reality, the U.S. will be an importer (and whether that's bad is another discussion on global competitiveness I can save for a later date).

Also, Japan has immediately brought its heavy hitters to bat for this technology, while the U.S. allocated a study to DoD's obscure (but nonetheless effective and important) National Security Space Office. In sum, the U.S. ought to get its proverbial toe out of the water and decide whether to dive in with Japan or go find another pool to play in when it comes to advanced renewable energy ideas.

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