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Space Power

Palau May Get Satellite Power In the Next Decade 177

Posted by kdawson
from the working-on-the-tan dept.
davidwr writes "The island nation of Palau is looking into creating a satellite-to-ground power transmission system. The system would use low-orbit satellites to transmit power to a receiver in bursts, unlike some other plans which rely on geostationary satellites. The initial 1-megawatt project is supposed to go online 'as early as' 2012 for a cost of $0.8 billion. Time will tell if this can be made cost-effective compared to traditional solar or other sources of power."
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Palau May Get Satellite Power In the Next Decade

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  • why Palau? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by xubu_caapn (1086401) on Monday December 24, 2007 @03:35AM (#21803718)
    so why Palau? is the fact that its an island nation preferable for this technology?
    • by jpu8086 (682572)
      because you can only have so many diesel generators on an island.
    • by C10H14N2 (640033) on Monday December 24, 2007 @04:08AM (#21803844)
      Brown people surrounded by large bodies of water are better equipped to deal with being bombarded by intense solar radiation than white people surrounded by large buildings.
      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        by Tablizer (95088)
        [Why do it first on an island?] Brown people surrounded by large bodies of water are better equipped to deal with being bombarded by intense solar radiation than white people surrounded by large buildings.

        If I was modding this, I would be dumbfounded to find an appropriate mod tag. It makes you think, but just smells sooooo wrong.
             
        • by Ignis Flatus (689403) on Monday December 24, 2007 @05:03AM (#21804074)
          it may be right, but for the wrong reasons. skin color isn't going to make a difference when being hit by a misaligned microwave beam. use white and brown eggs in your own microwave to test this theory.
          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by hoggoth (414195)
            > it may be right, but for the wrong reasons. skin color isn't going to make a difference when being hit by a misaligned microwave beam. use white and brown eggs in your own microwave to test this theory.

            Oh, he's right for the right reasons.
            The U.S. has a history of testing their weapons on brown people first.
        • It's so ridiculous I'd just go with +1 Funny and leave it at that.
      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        by mikiN (75494)
        Microwaves are colour blind, you (sk)insensitive clod!
  • Just a demo (Score:5, Interesting)

    by dunadan67 (689682) on Monday December 24, 2007 @03:38AM (#21803728)
    The description here is a bit misleading. From the sound of the article, Palau is really just a testbed for this technology. I'm assuming that they aren't footing any of the bill that is about 6X their GDP.
  • by User 956 (568564) on Monday December 24, 2007 @03:39AM (#21803734) Homepage
    The island nation of Palau is looking into creating a satellite-to-ground power transmission system.

    I'm sure the US Army already has such a thing, although they probably plan on using it to make glass parking lots.
  • SimCity (Score:5, Funny)

    by Conspiracy_Of_Doves (236787) on Monday December 24, 2007 @03:39AM (#21803742)
    Anyone else just flash on an image of a beam from space getting misaligned with the receiver and vaporizing sections of your city?
    • Yeah, nothing could possibly go wrong with that...
    • by mikesd81 (518581)
      I was thinking more like the movie Under Siege 2 where he blows the stealth out of the sky....
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by wizardforce (1005805)
      explosions aren't the problem with this power level, inducing currents in conductive materials like say electronics is. more powerful versions with a tighter beam may be able to do physical damage rather than electronuc damage but they are likely a few years off.
    • Re:SimCity (Score:5, Interesting)

      by rickwood (450707) on Monday December 24, 2007 @05:04AM (#21804078)
      One solution is to power the satellite with a return beam from the Earth station. If the main beam wanders, it loses power and cuts off. There are other solutions [wikipedia.org].
      • Great idea, but what if it rotates instead of wandering? Perhaps you could use a frequency with an extremely high refraction index in air, so that if it deviates in angle then it simply dissipates or reflects in the lower atmosphere. Of course, this would require the satellite to be a good distance outside of earth, and the base station to be absolutely perfectly perpendicular to the beam.
    • by mcpkaaos (449561)
      No, but I have a sudden urge to eat popcorn.
    • by DrSkwid (118965)
      Directing the beam to an offshore platform cabled to the grid ought to cover it.
  • Asimov (Score:5, Interesting)

    by radius1214 (1082581) on Monday December 24, 2007 @03:50AM (#21803792) Homepage
    Isaac Asimov wrote about a power source like this in "I, Robot." There were stations in space that absorbed solar energy and transmitted it back to Earth. If the ray became out of align, or if a magnetic storm intercepted the ray on its way toward the receptacle on the ground, it would distort the energy causing severe damage to huge portions of the planet. In the case of Palau, if they can get this technology working properly, it would be interesting to see how the United States or the EU would use this to aid their combat against global warming and non-renewable energy. Maybe the Space Station will get equipped with a huge solar array to send renewable energy down to Earth, eh?
    • by mikesd81 (518581)
      Eh, I'm not sure I'd put that on the space station. I'm not sure I'd put the transmitter on anything that includes human life. It could be serviceable by ISS personnel, but it should be it's own satellite being in case anything happens....like an overload. I'm still interested on exactly how the energy will be beamed down to Earth safely. And of course if someone accidentally looks at it, will they go blind?
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by ShakaUVM (157947)
      My AP Bio teacher back in the day talked about this technology being about the worst thing possible for global warming, as it actually increases the amount of energy coming in to the Earth. Even oil just burns energy that was stored as organic matter ages ago.

      Nuclear is still the best way to deal with global warming.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Xaositecte (897197)
        The idea behind global warming is the increase in greenhouse gases in the atmosphere which traps existing energy rather than allowing it to escape out into space. If the decrease in emissions allows more energy to escape than is being introduced into the system, you have a net benefit as far as global warming is concerned.

        Secondly, if you produce energy through Solar power like this that you otherwise would have produced using oil, you aren't producing a net increase in energy. The oil is still stored the
        • by jfengel (409917)
          That's correct, though I can't help but suspect that we won't actually offset fossil fuels. Prices will drop, because an alternative is introduced, and people will go out and buy bigger cars.

          Or if we replace the cars with electrics, we'll just burn the oil for something else. Knowing human beings, if we have no other use, we'll just set it on fire because it's pretty.
      • Actually, your bio teacher was stupid.

        The thing is, one CO2 molecule will trap much more energy in the atmosphere over its lifetime there (which can, theoretically be almost forever) than it generated for us when it was burnt.

        For a beaming technology to work, it has to have relatively low power loss to the atmosphere, which means that most of the energy given to the atmosphere will actually be just waste heat from our appliances, which is so minimal compared to the total amount of energy the atmosphere gets
        • by ShakaUVM (157947)
          The point about oil releasing trapped solar energy was just an academic one.

          Beaming down light like this will actually increase the effective solar output of the sun, which is a bad thing if you're worried about global warming. Depending on how much extra solar energy you're beaming down, it actually can have a significant effect.
      • by Fred_A (10934)

        My AP Bio teacher back in the day talked about this technology being about the worst thing possible for global warming, as it actually increases the amount of energy coming in to the Earth.
        So does the sun, every single second. Quick, somebody douse the damn thing !

      • by MobyDisk (75490)

        it actually increases the amount of energy coming in to the Earth.
        That's what I used to think, but it turns out not to be a significant amount of energy. It's far less than the amount of heat trapped by the resulting CO2 form burning oil. It's isn't about the production of heat as much as it is about the trapping of heat.
      • by MightyYar (622222)
        Consider the alternatives.

        Nuclear: creates large amounts of heat from otherwise relatively slow-decaying uranium. Effect will be the same.
        Fossil Fuels: creates large amounts of heat from otherwise trapped fuels. Added problem of greenhouse gas put into atmosphere. Effect will be worse.
        Solar: no obvious net heat gain, but could disrupt evaporation cycle...
        Wind: no obvious net heat gain, but siphons energy out of the atmosphere...

        So earth-based solar and wind are the only things arguably "better".
      • by toddestan (632714)
        Actually, that would only be true when the satellite is not between the earth and the sun. Otherwise, the satellite going to be blocking light that would otherwise be hitting the earth anyway. The net amount of energy isn't going to change (ignoring inefficiencies in the satellite), just the form of the energy. Now he would be right if the satellite was in the Lagrange point or something like that, but even then I would think we could safely ignore it.
    • by QuantumG (50515)
      Asimov, although a legend in his own time, probably shouldn't be your primary source of scientific knowledge now, or in the future.

    • If you think the US would use this to combat global warming. More like use it to combat "terrorists".
      • by Fred_A (10934)

        If you think the US would use this to combat global warming. More like use it to combat "terrorists".
        After all there is merely a "fight" going on against global warming whereas there is a *war* going on against terrorism. Not at all the same thing.

        Unless the thing against global warming escalates to full scale war (maybe somebody could "find" that Kerdjikistan has Weapons of Mass Marming and invade them ?)...

    • by PhotoGuy (189467)

      Isaac Asimov wrote about a power source like this in "I, Robot." There were stations in space that absorbed solar energy and transmitted it back to Earth. If the ray became out of align, or if a magnetic storm intercepted the ray on its way toward the receptacle on the ground, it would distort the energy causing severe damage to huge portions of the planet.

      I'm sure this type of problem is addressd in the core design of the system. As a simple parallel: I had two way satellite internet, which involves Joe S

    • Maybe the Space Station will get equipped with a huge solar array to send renewable energy down to Earth, eh?
      I have a feeling that it would be a lot cheaper to just build a new satellite instead of trying to retrofit the space station for yet another purpose. Let the international porkstation rest in peace.
  • Time will tell us "no" in a stern voice.
  • by SKorvus (685199) on Monday December 24, 2007 @04:08AM (#21803842) Homepage
    They're paying $800 per watt, when a company is now shipping solar panels that cost under $1/watt [nanosolar.com], AND have a single, expensive point of failure? What is the point of beaming solar energy down from space, to a tropical island?

    Ground-based solar including panels and batteries could be built local to each home or village, at a fraction of the cost of this over-engineered idea.

    • by sokoban (142301)

      Ground-based solar including panels and batteries could be built local to each home or village, at a fraction of the cost of this over-engineered idea.
      Maybe they have higher power requirements than there is area available for solar panels. They are an island after all. Space is kind of limited.
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Tablizer (95088)
      They're paying $800 per watt, when a company is now shipping solar panels that cost under $1/watt

      Uh.....unions?

           
    • 1) It's a testbed. The technology is new. Prices will fall if it's successful. If it weren't expensive to try, we'd be having this already.
      2) They're in the tropics. Frequent rains will not only disturb solar collection, it will likely cause excessive required maintenance on the panels.
      3) It's a frigging island. Construction-space is limited. Putting the solar array in orbit means you have *oodles* of space (no pun) for solar panels, many times greater than what you could get on any island. Also, no clouds,
      • by Firethorn (177587)
        1: By a minimum of two orders of magnitude? Even nuclear is estimated at $1-3 per watt. $8/watt is still too expensive for anything but special purposes - like supplying remote stations and forward military bases at the end of long supply chains.

        2: A properly installed solar panel is about as vulnerable to plain rain as a roof is. Tsunamis and hurricanes would still take them out, but these disasters take out all sorts of stuff.

        3: Any ground station would be as vulnerable to natural disasters as a sol
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Colin Smith (2679)
      Yeah, but you're missing the point. They'll be in debt for 2000 years so the banks will be happy, the people will be able to beam with pride at how technologically advanced they are and the government get to look like they're important.
       
      • by ctid (449118)
        Why don't you read the article? The government is not paying for this - they are allowing some commercial outfit to put the receiving system on an uninhabited island. The article doesn't go into it, but I suspect that the company is paying the government. The idea is not to generate electricity for anyone - this setup is to test safety.

    • when a company is now shipping solar panels that cost under $1/watt


      No they don't, the $1/W price is what they hope getting the price down to with time. Or put in a slightly different way $1/W is a press release from their marketing department which doesn't accurately specify under what conditions it applies.
    • The US military came out with saying that they idea is doable for them, and with some real innovation, for the world. In terms of the US military, they want the ability to deliver power to troops on the ground as well as equipment there. A fly-by, combined with ultra-capacitors that DOD is funding, and now, we have the ability to deliver LOADS of power.
    • by roman_mir (125474)
      Let's say there is a need to deliver energy quickly to any location on the ground anywhere at any time of the day.

      Instead of bringing in the solar panels, (which may not be always doable, depends on the conditions of the requirement) place a satellite above, even if it is night time, use other satellites on the orbit to beam solar energy between them, until it reaches the satellite above you.

      This may have its uses.
  • the side bonus to this system is that palau can widen the aperture and fuzzy the focus on the satellite, to the "ablate" setting, and burn off the ocean water encroaching on the last bit of high ground on the atoll
  • I hope they will find some loyal robot Descartes!
  • It's already been pointed out that once solar cells are properly commercialised - and this is rapidly getting closer - the entire United States generation baseload could be provided from panels on public land in Arizona alone. Anybody who has been following recent trends in power generation will see that there are basically four threads which are coming together quite fast; solar, wind, nuclear and thermonuclear (i.e. the Toshiba proposal for small inherently safe reactors that could be mainly used for area
    • by Dan Ost (415913)
      the entire United States generation baseload could be provided from panels on public land in Arizona alone.

      Peak load, maybe. Base load? Nope. Not unless you've got a way of storing excess power generated during the day to use at night.

      You'll probably see nuclear generating most of our base load in the future, along with a little wind, geothermal, and hydro. Solar will only contribute during the day.
      • There is a moderately detailed proposal which doesn't actually look like fairy dust. Incidentally, the main reason that solar does not combine well with existing nuclear generation capacity is that it is difficult and expensive to power cycle nuclear reactors. The use of small reactors for local heating, and stored gas for overnight power generation, means that solar can carry more of the base load.

        Having said that, given the number of pedants on /. I should have written "capacity equivalent to the entire

  • Long, uphill climb (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Stuntmonkey (557875)

    Hmmm, 1MW for $0.8B, that's $800/Watt. About 800x the cost of coal, and 200x the cost of old-school photovoltaics. That's quite a lot of ground to make up, especially given that presumably the largest component of expense -- launch costs -- have a very low likelihood of improving by this factor until something like the space elevator comes along.

    This story seems like a hoax. The nation of Palau has only 20,000 people, and a annual GDP of $160M. Are they really going to invest in a single R&D proje

    • This story seems like a hoax. The nation of Palau has only 20,000 people, and a annual GDP of $160M. Are they really going to invest in a single R&D project that costs five times their national GDP? I call BS.
      they probably are not paying for it themselves, it sounds like an experimental project funded from off the island with significantly more investment money available than that whole island is worth.
    • by ceoyoyo (59147)
      Read the article. The Pentagon wants to put a megawatt solar panel on a LEO satellite to beam power down to the ground on a deserted tropical island. It's a test bed for the technology. Might that technology have some interesting uses, uses that might seem to be an awfully good deal for only a billion dollars?
    • by evilviper (135110)

      This story seems like a hoax.

      How would you know? You didn't even read it.

      Are they really going to invest in a single R&D project that costs five times their national GDP?

      No, "they" aren't going to invest any money in the project.

      I call BS.

      I call karma whore.
  • I don't get how satellites can be cheaper than simply setting up bunches of solar panels on the ground. Putting poundage into space and managing it is damned expensive, let alone the precision aiming technology. I don't get the accounting here. Please help me, I'm a doctor, not an accountant (well ok, I'm not actually a doc, but it makes a better cliche).
    • by xenocide2 (231786)
      There was a google tech talk on orbital power [google.com] I just saw yesterday on the subject. The basic idea is preparing for a global power system based on renewable energy. Their argument is that power generation from light at the surface is inefficient because the atmosphere is not transparent on most of the sun's spectrum (I guess this means the "visible spectrum" is evolved from this atmosphereic property). In contrast, there's much more light to be had in space. I guess they believe that aiming it can be done.

      Th
    • by toddestan (632714)
      I don't get how satellites can be cheaper than simply setting up bunches of solar panels on the ground. Putting poundage into space and managing it is damned expensive, let alone the precision aiming technology. I don't get the accounting here. Please help me, I'm a doctor, not an accountant (well ok, I'm not actually a doc, but it makes a better cliche).

      Well, apparently you aren't a good reader either. From TFA:
      "It could be done with today's technology, experts say. But the prohibitive cost of lifting tho
  • ...the natives believe their spam.
  • by edwardpickman (965122) on Monday December 24, 2007 @04:48AM (#21804016)
    All the cooked birds you can eat.
  • Article: One NASA study visualized solar-panel arrays 3 by 6 miles in size, transmitting power to similarly sized rectennas on Earth.

    1. That could glow pretty bright in the night sky. Environmentalists may complain.

    2. So much for real-estate savings.

    3. How the hell did the name "rectenna" get past the marketing department? Must be from the Uranus Ad Agency.
       
    • by Dan Ost (415913)
      The shortening of "rectifying antenna" was already in wide use before anyone from marketing knew about it.
  • I can already see a great TV reality show. "Beat the Waves", where contestants have 90 minutes to cross the island, preferably while trying to slow down the others in any way possible. Beer and chips ready, GO.
  • Now china has working satellite kill weapons no doubt many other will follow (if they don't have them already). How many countries would want to risk their power infrastructure being vulnerable to someone pressing a launch button thousands of miles away with no risk to themselves whatsoever?
    • by timeOday (582209)
      A rather silly argument, since any point on earth can be hit with an ICBM.
      • by Viol8 (599362)
        Not a silly argument since an ICBM is a weapon of mass distruction and irradiates a large area. By knocking out a countries power infrastructure you could wait for the the government to collapse then invade.
  • what? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by sentientbrendan (316150) on Monday December 24, 2007 @08:10AM (#21804630)
    so their plan is to put a solar panel in space... because solar radiation is 8 times more powerful... umm... I'm pretty sure that putting the same surface area of solar panels in space is going to cost *way* more than 8 times as much as putting it on the ground.

    Then of course there's the idea that we will somehow magically "beam" the energy to the ground. Here's an idea, we let the sunlight beam itself to the ground, instead of putting an enormous expensive satellite as an unnecessary intermediary in the process.

    This is one of the sci fi ideas that sounds cool in a story because it involves big machines and lasers, but is totally nonsensical when you actually take ten seconds to think about it. File this in the same category as giant fighting robots and transporter beams.
    • by sholden (12227)
      It's all about size and ease of setup on the ground.

      The actual use is, your army is invading some country far away, and is setting up a base camp in the middle of nowhere and would like some power. Sure, they could carry acres of solar cells and lay out a huge shiny "please use this to target your weapons" array of solar panels. Or you could setup the rectenna, plug the coordinates the GPS reports in and have a megawatt of power next time one one the satellites passes overhead.
      • by berashith (222128)
        or instead of setting up a base camp, just set the coordinates of the power delivery to the location of your unsuspecting enemies. After all their toys have been fried, just send them a letter letting them know that they have been conquered.
        • by sholden (12227)
          That would violate some treaties I suspect...

          So, that's the next step and it will be "accidental", typo by some flunky, power spike at the time too, sorry about that...

      • >The actual use is, your army is invading some country far away, and is setting up a base
        >camp in the middle of nowhere and would like some power.

        Armies typically just use petroleum or nuclear power, as it is portable and reliable, whereas solar energy is neither. Really, I've never heard of an army concerning itself with making its energy source "green." After all, that would imply moral concerns that don't exist when participating in organized violence...
  • "Independence from other countries for your energy -- priceless"

    Sometimes its not about raw dollars, but security.
  • Well, I think this makes compelete sense - a lot of island communities tend to stick with alternative power supplies. In the US look at Maui, where solar power trumps all other power simply due to the fact that half of the island is brand-spanking-new in geologic terms, and putting power lines and poles in freshly hardened volcanic rock is prohibitively expensive. I can only imagine the same applies here.

    Also, does anyone remember GI Joe the movie? The broadcast energy device? So awesome that a childhood

  • let's do the math (Score:4, Informative)

    by Ancient_Hacker (751168) on Monday December 24, 2007 @09:43AM (#21805014)
    Kinda silly, but let's do the math. We will assume you can build and loft the required equipment for the stated price. A satellite at 300 miles up is going to be overhead for maybe 10 minutes. Let's assume as in TFA it will send down a megawatt during that time. So on the average it's beaming down 166 kilowatts. A kilowatt-hour might cost as much as 20 cents on an island, so this satellite gives them about $34 per hour.

    Now if they went to the UN Bank to borrow the $800 million, they might get an interest rate of 8%. The first year, the interest cost alone is $64 million. The satellite has beamed back 24 * 366 * $34 or a tad under $300,000. This plan can't pay back even 1/200th of the cost of money.

    • How much money does it cost to get that kind of power to troops in a field or to the equipment? It costs a LOT more than this.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by IhuntCIA (1099827)
      Hmm... how narrow can microwave energy beam be?
      Let's say that power output is one gigawatt and say 10 times more denser than solar radiation at the surface, then it is about 10KW per m^2 at surface. Not deadly, but very abundant and slightly hot. Could damage unprotected electronic devices like computers, radios etc. "Hot Spot" radius could be ~560m and microwave radiation might scatter while traveling trough atmosphere, allowing enemy troops to pinpoint beam direction easily.

      It's like saying: "Hello, We
  • 184 vs. 4 (Score:2, Interesting)

    by jnsaff (1203144)
    The only time I have heard about this country before is from this little bit of news: UN votes 184 for U.S. to drop embargo on Cuba [liveleak.com]

    The annual UN vote on the U.S. trade embargo on Cuba saw support for the Caribbean island remain overwhelming, despite a call by President George W. Bush for countries to join Washington in pushing Havana toward democracy.

    Canada was among 184 countries that supported the measure denouncing the embargo, which the world body passed for the 16th year.

    Joining the U.S. in op

  • by mikelieman (35628) on Monday December 24, 2007 @10:57AM (#21805582) Homepage
    http://spacesolarpower.files.wordpress.com/2007/11/final-sbsp-interim-assessment-release-01.pdf [wordpress.com]

    Long story short, if we get off our asses, in 50 years we can have energy independence, AND cheap access to space.

  • You know, I get sick of the complaining about lack of alternatives in power of generation. Then when "Alternatives get proposed, those "Alternatives" get attacked by someone as well. Is it expensive? Yeah, all new technology is expensive at first.

    Wind Turbines: It's bad because they kill birds (Which is debatable, but so group ran around claiming so and got published in USA Today. Which is where most people got the news so therefore people rant, "Wind power: Think of the birds!)
    Solar Power: Not so g

  • by DerekLyons (302214) <fairwater@gmail. c o m> on Monday December 24, 2007 @02:53PM (#21808222) Homepage
    There isn't space in a Slashdot comment box to describe the many things wrong with this proposal, so I'll sum up:
     
    If the new snake oil powered launchers come online on schedule, and the unobtanium mines in Siberia don't have a another bad winter - this proposal has abour .01% of a chance in hell of meeting the costs and schedules laid out in the article. (Though I suspect the high worldwide demand for handwavium integrated circuits, needed for aiming the satellite's antenna, may be the bottleneck in the end.)
  • by dracocat (554744)
    HAM radio operators everywhere are scrambling to stop this virtual power line from space.

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