MadSci Network: Astronomy

Re: Would it be at all conceivable to construct a mammoth solar collector

Date: Tue Oct 3 11:41:09 2000
Posted By: John Haberman, Space Scientist, NASA Goddard Space Center, Greenbelt MD
Area of science: Astronomy
ID: 969904363.As

  This idea has been discussed on many occasions and in many different 
forums.(*)  The conclusion is always that it is an interesting idea but 
that there are too many dangers, difficulties and unknowns with this 
concept, at least here at the Earth.  Among the concerns are:

1. To generate enough electricity the solar collector would need to be 
very large, many miles in each dimension.  It is not clear how to create 
and stably maintain such a large structure that must efficiently collect 
solar energy.  

2. How would we transfer this energy to the surface of the Earth?  Would 
we convert it to microwave or laser wavelengths to beam to the Earth's 
surface?  To be an efficient method, the power density should be very 
high.  The circuitry and equipment required to do this are generally 
inefficient and usually require a lot of maintenance.

3. What effects would the shadow of this large structure have on the Earth 
and on the Earth's atmosphere?  What effects would this high-density power 
beam have on the Earth's atmosphere?  What effects would storms and other 
atmospheric events have on the power beam?  How can we guarantee that 
airplanes and birds will stay out of the areas where these beams are 
present?  Who would be responsible if the beam's focus point were to 
wander and cause damage or harm?

  Obviously some of these concerns are irrelevant at the moon or at other 
planets.  Nevertheless, it appears that the safest and most cost effective 
methods of power generation remain those already in use: i.e., fossil fuel 
powered, hydroelectric and windmill powered and nuclear powered generators.

(*)  NOTE:  This is an especially good topic for groups of appropriate 
scientists and engineers to discuss during coffee breaks and at after work 
get-togethers.  It is also a good discussion topic when they are "bouncing 
ideas around", without regard to scientific or engineering limitations, as 
they try to develop new ideas to for research funding.  Important 
breakthroughs and developments frequently result from ideas that, at 
first, seemed whimsical or frivolous.

  All of the above represent my interpretations and views and not those of 
my employer.

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