Fiona Harvey Beam me up, Scotty!

Space Solar disk.jpg

Solar power from space – it’s the final frontier.

Well, all solar power is from space – that’s where the sun is – but we earthlings usually gather it up into a useful form down here on earth. That’s not enough, though, for Pacific Gas and Electric, of the US, which is now going to try out gathering solar power through satellites in orbit and beaming it down to earth.

Sounds crazy? Possibly. PG&E admits it’s an experiment, and power won’t begin to flow until 2016.

The company said on Tuesday it was “seeking approval from state regulators for a power purchase agreement with Solaren Corp, a Southern California company that has contracted to deliver 200 megawatts of clean, renewable power over a 15 year period”.

Solaren’s idea is to use solar panels in earth orbit, then convert the energy to radio frequencies for transmission to a receiving station in California. From there, the energy would be converted to electricity and fed to PG&E.

Solaren notes that solar energy in space is much more powerful than that which hits the earth, which is filtered through our atmosphere. Orbiting panels can also gather energy at night, unlike panels on earth’s surface.

The question we all want to ask, though, is: will the beam of energy sent back down to earth fry birds, planes, and anything else that strays into its path? And could it be stolen by an evil genius and used as a death ray to focus on the great cities of the world?

More prosaically, the question investors will want to ask is: won’t it be many times more expensive to build, send out and maintain solar panels in space than it would be to just build them down here on the ground?

PG&E says there is no risk to its investors – it will only pay for power that is delivered.

We haven’t had an answer yet on the evil genius question, but we’ll keep you posted.