I think the article in Computing magazine was merely focusing on replacing traditional phone and internet transmission infrastructure (i.e. communication towers) with solar-powered satellites (or basically completely wireless). I don’t know how much energy a typical giant tower uses, but it seems the solar-satellite goal is nearly the same as providing a traditional tower with clean energy – whether it is derived from Earth, the sun, Mars, child laughter, or the kindness of our hearts. Still, the article does get the ball rolling, as Nick mentioned, on large scale electricity production via space-based solar power.
It’s not often that we come across new and exciting potential energy technology. I feel like we’re all holding about the same amount of cards and no one ever gets to say Go Fish. So I dug up a Popular Mechanics article on the technology, and I think Nick is spot on in his explanation of space-based solar. It’s a simple idea to grasp, but questions of course arise. I wonder of the ‘power via microwave beams’ process – how efficient is that process through the atmosphere and how badly does it hurt the already low efficiency from the panels themselves? And it turns out the U.S. has already devoted some efforts to the technology. The article references a Pentagon report from October 2007 that addressed the feasibility of space-based solar power. Key findings include an idea for the U.S. “government to fund launches to place initial arrays in orbit by 2016” and a goal of providing 10% of the country’s base-load power to the electrical grid by 2050. Apparently the technology already exists, but Earth-based PV arrays will be cheaper for many years to come.