Could solar wind power Earth?

Oct 04, 2010 by Miranda Marquit weblog
Image source: plus.maths.org

(PhysOrg.com) -- As we strive to find sources of alternative energy, a number of researchers continue to look to what we consider the ultimate in renewable energy -- the sun. However, on earth creating efficient solar panels remains a challenge. While solar cells have been increasing in efficiency, and while new advances are made in solar technology on earth, there are some looking to harvest solar energy a little bit closer to the source by harvesting energy from the solar wind.

The is a stream of charged particles that heads outward from the sun's . They move outward toward Earth and the rest of the planets, and provide the potential to power to the entire Earth, according to some researchers. And, even though we refer to the solar wind as "wind", it wouldn't provide energy in the way we see act here on earth. Instead, energy from the solar wind would be collected by a gigantic sail deployed in space, between the sun and Earth.

One proposal has been offered by scientists at Washington State University. Discovery News reports on the specs of a massive solar sail -- and its potential:

According to the team's calculations, 300 meters (984 feet) of copper wire, attached to a two-meter-wide (6.6-foot-wide) receiver and a 10-meter (32.8-foot) sail, would generate enough power for 1,000 homes.

A satellite with a 1,000-meter (3,280-foot) cable and a sail 8,400 kilometers (5,220 miles) across, placed at roughly the same orbit, would generate one billion billion gigawatts of power.

The real challenge is how to get all that energy back to Earth in order to power the planet. One idea is to use a concentrated to send the energy back to Earth. Unfortunately, there would be millions of miles between satellite and its earthly target, making it difficult for the laser beam to reach the planet without widening and losing energy.

While it is likely that the solar sail could be built and deployed with current technology, beaming the energy it harvests from the solar wind will take a little more time to figure out. Until then, we will have to be content with on Earth.

Explore further: Audi to develop Tesla Model S all-electric rival

More information: -- Eric Bland, "Solar Or Wind Power? Why Not Both?" Discovery News (September 29, 2010). Available online: news.discovery.com/tech/solar-… nd-energy-power.html
-- Brooks L. Harrop and Dirk Schulze-Makuch, "The Solar Wind Power Satellite as an alternative to a traditional Dyson Sphere and its implications for remote detection," International Journal of Astrobiology (2010). Available online: journals.cambridge.org/action/… Id=S1473550410000066

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User comments : 24

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Quantum_Conundrum
3.7 / 5 (3) Oct 04, 2010
While I applaud the fact that yet another group has recognized this potential, this certainly isn't anything new.

They have not even offered any new solutions of how to build and deploy these devices.

Personally, I think the most cost-effective means is through self-assembling robots mining asteroids, etc.

At any rate, the sun produces more than 1.5 billion times more energy than what the earth actually recieves from the sun, while the earth itself recieves more than 10,000 times more energy from the sun as we actually currently need to power our machines.
Husky
3 / 5 (4) Oct 04, 2010
Overcome the beaming problem by connecting a liniar acellerator with gold targets locally to the Dyson-Harrop satellite and with that produce antimatter that could be transported elewhere by freighters, flying on antimatter naturally, while at it, besides artificially producing antimatter, there is a lot of antimatter that could be extracted from that same solarwind besides electricity, so, capture AND produce, and, don't shoot out the leftover protons via the backplate, but use them to produce hydrogen/water etc. this would a triple whammy effect and fully exploit the potential mass/energy locked in your square km of solarwind
Modernmystic
2 / 5 (6) Oct 04, 2010
Good lord, all you have to do is string a copper wire with a weight on it and let it cruise through the Earth's magnetic field and beam the current down via microwaves...if you really think it's worth the expense.

Build nuclear reactors...
GaryB
4 / 5 (5) Oct 04, 2010
Let's see, shipping tons and tons of complicated equipment into relatively deep space, dealing with the constant bombardments of particles and radiation (that you hope to harvest), figuring out how to beam it back and then of course you must reconvert and distribute that beam. You have to maintain all of the above. OK.

Or, refine the designs of breeder reactors, my hopes on thorium breeders, but Bill Gate's project is a good shot too. I'd vote/invest in breeder reactors myself. They'll give humanity 1000 years to figure out fusion or whatever else.
El_Nose
not rated yet Oct 04, 2010
why not use a relay device to send energy. Yes it would be ineffecient but hey power lines are ineffecient relays and sub stations are ineffecient relays.

So have the satellite beem the energy to another satellite that redirects it closer to earth via another satellite.

seems reasonable.
Quantum_Conundrum
1.5 / 5 (2) Oct 04, 2010
Let's see, shipping tons and tons of complicated equipment into relatively deep space.


This is why you need mining and manufacturing facilities in space to make whatever components are necessary to minimize cost of launch. Many asteroids are believed, based on recovered meteorite samples, to be very rich in nickel and copper, two metals that have huge applications in a project like this.

To further minimize costs, you would ship self-replicating systems as much as possible.

After this, you would only ship up things that can't be manufactured in space with available materials.
holoman
not rated yet Oct 04, 2010
Wireless Power Transmission Satellite proposed
using the electrons from solar wind in LEO.

http://www.p2pnet...ry/16477

Patent Pending says in article.
WhiteJim
3.4 / 5 (5) Oct 04, 2010
Nuclear Reactors are by far the cheapest and safest and cleanest power generation method we have ever had or will have for a few hundred more years at least.
Caliban
3.8 / 5 (4) Oct 04, 2010
Or, refine the designs of breeder reactors, my hopes on thorium breeders, but Bill Gate's project is a good shot too. I'd vote/invest in breeder reactors myself. They'll give humanity 1000 years to figure out fusion or whatever else.


I would be with you nuclear people, if it weren't for the dismal track record of the (entrenched) energy Industries, Nuclear, Coal, Petro -when it comes to safety record, environmental impact, market manipulation, collusion, fraud, coercion, et c, et c, et c. Expecially troubling when one takes into account all of the technology purportedly bought up, suppressed, or destroyed by Big Energy over the years, simply to maintain marketshare and profitability.
The Owners, Operators, and Shareholders of latest-generation Thorium Breeder reactors are not any more likely to voluntarily give up their interest simply because some cheaper/safer/cleaner/more sustainable alternative comes to light on some Sunny Future Day.
Build a few, see how it goes.
plasticpower
5 / 5 (1) Oct 04, 2010
How about, build the proposed nuclear reactors BUT also develop this solar sail thing on a smaller scale to power satellites and space stations, instead of using expensive solar panels that are easily damaged by debris in space. This would at least replace solar panels in space.
dirk_bruere
5 / 5 (5) Oct 04, 2010
"A satellite with a 1,000-meter (3,280-foot) cable and a sail 8,400 kilometers (5,220 miles) across, placed at roughly the same orbit, would generate one billion billion gigawatts of power."

That's 10^27 Watts claimed.
The total output of the sun is less than that. There's something wrong with the arithmetic.
Graeme
5 / 5 (1) Oct 05, 2010
Yes the arithmetic seems way off. If it was a solar energy from sunlight, the sail could collect about 64 million gigawatts in near earth orbit. I still think the technology is still far off, as even 1 square km on earth is an extreme engineering undertaking.
Pkunk_
not rated yet Oct 05, 2010
Overcome the beaming problem by connecting a liniar acellerator with gold targets locally to the Dyson-Harrop satellite and with that produce antimatter that could be transported elewhere by freighters, flying on antimatter naturally, while at it, besides artificially producing antimatter, there is a lot of antimatter that could be extracted from that same solarwind besides electricity, so, capture AND produce, and, don't shoot out the leftover protons via the backplate, but use them to produce hydrogen/water etc. this would a triple whammy effect and fully exploit the potential mass/energy locked in your square km of solarwind


There are a million ways to make antimatter with this much energy to play with.

But yeah the idea is sound. As long as the antimatter doesn't lose containment , and even if it does its probably too far from the Earth to affect us.

With this method you can also make enough antimatter to power Interstellar ships too.
sender
not rated yet Oct 05, 2010
Rather than deploy sails, utilize klystron charge convertors to accelerate hydrogen ion beams.
Birger
1 / 5 (1) Oct 05, 2010
This sounds like a very exciting idea...for sometime after 2100. We must replace oil and coal long before then, with whatever technologies are available to us in the next two-three decades, and/or sequester carbon dioxide. Good luck to our descendants two generations down, but we will have our hands full with more mundane energy technology (enthusiasts for nuclear power are invited to check out the Indian Thorium program) (enthusiasts for biotechnology are invited to check out technologies to convert lignicellulose to simple sugars).
genastropsychicallst
1 / 5 (1) Oct 05, 2010
... image tachyon atom geddon pion Sun 2 magnon pulsar + split halo image boson ...
albthere4u
not rated yet Oct 05, 2010
‎"However, on earth creating efficient solar panels remains a challenge" I think the only challenge left to solar cells is ignorance ! Good documentary by Dutch Public TV from 2 years ago demystify P.V power:http://www.youtub...BFyfvK8A
should be widely watch...pls.
A_Paradox
not rated yet Oct 05, 2010
Well I question one set of fundamental assumptions taken for granted in this article: the idea that photo-voltaic is the optimum method for getting power from sunlight. Don't get me wrong, photovoltaic clearly has great utility in the right situations but, as everywhere else, what we need is _appropriate technology_. The fact is that solar energy can be concentrated to heat air, water, salt, or whatever, and then the heat transferred via the fluid medium to wherever it is needed for example: in the oven or under the hot plate or urn, in the shower or the kitchen sink, or at the hot side of a Stirling engine.

If anybody wants extra energy from space, ie to augment solar power in high latitude areas then all that is needed is very wide reflectors in geostationary orbit. Collection of energy from the solar wind would be most useful for space based manufacturing, but most extraterrestrial manufacturing would be better done on or in the moon.
xznofile
not rated yet Oct 05, 2010
neat idea, but talk about fluctuating power. somewhere on the earth air-wind is always blowing, but solar-wind doesn't blow consistently and only comes from one source. what kind of storage is possible on that scale?
hypermach
not rated yet Oct 05, 2010
The most effective way to utilize space-based power would be to shift as much mineral production and manufacturing into space as possible. No more strip mining for metalic ores and conventional energy sources would go a lot farther toward meeting 'local' needs.
zeeb
5 / 5 (1) Oct 06, 2010
Why not a have the wire aound the moon instead of on a satellte. The energy could be beamed back in the same way using lasers. The moon is outwith the earths magnetic field for 2/3 of the month and has no atmospere. |I don't know how strong the solar wind is on the moon but surely the size of the wire (3700mkm) could collect quite a lot of electrons. Hey, we could call the moon the Death Star and collect 370,000 billion times the earths enegy needs.
flying_finn
not rated yet Oct 07, 2010
Time to develop a space elevator. It would offer shielding from the Van Allen Belt, offer alternative payload delivery to space, and a hard wire link to toys in space.
Ravenrant
not rated yet Oct 10, 2010
If you are going to wish, wish for the best after the transmission problem is solved. We happen to have a planet sized object orbiting us AND keeping the same face towards us 24/7. An equatorial belt of solar power plants around the moon connected to a central transmission station that beams power back to near earth satellites (don't want to fry mother earth). It should be capable of incredible power. It could also be used to power solar sail craft.
A_Paradox
not rated yet Oct 10, 2010
Ravenrant,

good lateral thinking! I tend to think that solar power on the moon would be most effectively used to power mining and manufacturing on the moon and then electromagnetic acceleration of the prefabricated steel products into Earth orbit. My reason for assuming that is I have read that in the crust and mantle of the Moon there is plenty of pure iron. It is not oxidised because the Moon lost its light gasses soon after it condensed. Now that has got to be a gift to us!

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