An op-ed in the New York Times yesterday by O. Glenn Smith, a former NASA employee, suggests what is certainly a “thinking outside the box” kind of solution to our nation’s energy woes: solar panels…in outer space.
Smith recommends building large solar panels that would orbit the earth and send energy back to us via wireless radio waves. Apparently, the technology already exists, and the pro column reads something like this:
- not hampered by weather
- works 24 hours a day (the sun never sets in space)
- environmentally friendly
- cost-competitive with other renewables
- makes use of the United States’ hefty investment in space travel
While I’m always glad to hear about innovations that will help our globe move toward a sustainable energy schema, I’m a little skeptical about the way Smith holds up this technology as the way of the immediate future. He opens his piece with this:
As we face $4.50 a gallon gas, we also know that alternative energy sources — coal, oil shale, ethanol, wind and ground-based solar — are either of limited potential, very expensive, require huge energy storage systems or harm the environment.
This quick dismissal of the alternative energy sources we know and love (except…how is coal alternative?) is questionable. For starters, I have a hard time believing that any energy system that must be installed and maintained outside our atmosphere will be less expensive than one based here on the earth’s surface.
Smith also ignores the benefits that energy sources like wind and ground-based solar provide that space-based solar does not. One of the great benefits of investing in wind and solar power is the creation of thousands of jobs, especially in rural areas. The fact that the handymen for these solar panels in space would have to also be astronauts prevents space-based solar from becoming a solution to the dearth of quality manufacturing and other blue-collar jobs in this country.
Some day, I hope we will see space-to-earth solar energy. But for now, let’s focus on all the untapped renewable energy potential here on terra firma before we pull a Buy N’ Large* and run to outer space in search of the answers.
But if the idea of space-based solar intrigues you, you can read more about it on this blog dedicated to the topic.
*obligitory (in my opinion anyway) Wall-E reference
Read Full Post »