You may know from watching Star Trek that a man named Freeman Dyson described a construction by a very advanced civilization whereby an entire star is surrounded by solar collectors, capturing most or all of the star’s energy. Energy company PG&E is on the road to taking the first small step in that direction: Solar cells in space that beam energy back to Earth.
Pacific Gas and Electric Company, which serves San Francisco and northern California, has agreed to buy electricity from a startup company claiming to have found a way to unlock the potential power supply in space.
The firm, Solaren Corp, says it will launch solar panels into orbit and then convert the power generated into radio-frequency transmissions, which will be beamed back down into a depot in Fresno, California. The energy would then be converted into electricity and fed into the regular power grid, PG&E said.
Although spacecraft and satellites routinely use solar panels, the project marks the first serious attempt to take advantage of the powerful and near-constant supply of sunshine in space.
Nasa and the Pentagon have been studying the idea of orbiting solar farms since the 1960s, and a number of private researchers have been looking at ways to tap into space-based solar energy.
But Solaren Corp, founded by a former spacecraft engineer, says it has developed a technology that would make it commercially viable within the next seven years to transmit electricity generated in space to a terrestrial power grid.
PG&E announced this week that it had agreed to buy 200 megawatts of electricity from Solaren starting in 2016. The deal has yet to be approved by California state government regulators and PG&E has not put any money into Solaren, but the promise alone has turned the notion of space based solar power from fantasy to reality.
“There is a very serious possibility they can make this work,” said PG&E’s spokesman Jonathan Marshall.
We may some day detect a Dyson Sphere and thus find evidence of intelligent extraterrestrial life. More from Wikipedia:
In Dyson’s original paper, he speculated that sufficiently advanced extraterrestrial civilizations would likely follow a similar power consumption pattern as humans, and would eventually build their own sphere of collectors. … a Dyson Sphere, constructed by life forms not dissimilar to humans, who dwelled in proximity to a Sun-like star, made with materials similar to those available to humans, would most likely cause an increase in the amount of infrared radiation in the star system’s emitted spectrum. Hence, Dyson selected the title “Search for Artificial Stellar Sources of Infrared Radiation” for his published paper.