Bloomberg reports that Mitsubishi, IHI Corp and 14 other unspecified Japanese companies are joining a project to build a solar power generator in space.
The 1GW station would involve four square kilometres of solar panels. It’s estimated to be about 2,000bn yen ($21bn) and 30 years away, and it would have to become much, much cheaper to get out there:
Transporting panels to the solar station 36,000 kilometers above the earth’s surface will be prohibitively costly, so Japan has to figure out a way to slash expenses to make the solar station commercially viable, said Hiroshi Yoshida, Chief Executive Officer of Excalibur KK, a Tokyo-based space and defense-policy consulting company.
“These expenses need to be lowered to a hundredth of current estimates,” Yoshida said by phone from Tokyo.
Something about this reminds us of Desertec: ambitious, expensive (though not in the same league as the €400bn Desertec), and with a bunch of big name vendors involved (apparently – there is no sign of it on either Mitsubishi’s or IHI’s websites). It’s also a long way off and far from certain.
Bloomberg cites confirmation coming from the Institute for Unmanned Space Experiment Free Flyer, or USEF, a Japanese government-funded non-profit organisation, that promotes research into unmanned space experiments. USEF does have a page about Space Solar Power Systems, which talks about the concept and gives a roadmap to a 1GW project. The Bloomberg story says a trade ministry document describes plans for launching a small satellite in 2015 to test beaming electricity through the earth’s atmosphere.
USEF’s working committee says the concept is technically feasible and would have lifecycle CO2 emissions similar to a nuclear power plant. The big problem, then, is the cost.
The next challenge for that €400bn desert solar project (FT Energy Source, 13/07/09)