A major problem facing Planet Earth is provision of an adequate supply of clean energy. It has been that we face “…three simultaneous challenges — population growth, resource consumption, and environmental degradation — all converging particularly in the matter of sustainable energy supply.” It is widely agreed that our current energy practices will not provide for all the world’s peoples in an adequate way and still leave our Earth with a livable environment. Hence, a major task for the new century will be to develop sustainable and environmentally friendly sources of energy.
Projections of future energy needs over this new century show an increase by a factor of at least two and one Half, perhaps by as much as a factor of five. All of the scenarios from reference 3 indicate continuing use of fossil sources, nuclear, and large hydro. However, the greatest increases come from “new renewables” and all scenarios show extensive use of these sources by 2050. Indeed, the projections indicate that the amount of energy derived from new renewables by 2050 will exceed that presently provided by oil and gas combined. This would imply a major change in the world’s energy infrastructure. It will be a Herculean task to acquire this projected amount of energy. This author asserts that there are really only a few good options for meeting the additional energy needs of the new century in an environmentally acceptable way.
One of the so-called new renewables on which major reliance is almost certain to be placed is solar power. Solar power captured on the Earth is familiar to all. However, an alternative approach to exploiting solar power is to capture it in space and convey it to the Earth by wireless means. As with terrestrial capture, Space Solar Power (SSP) provides a source that is virtually carbon-free and sustainable. As will be described later, the power-collecting platforms would most likely operate in geosynchronous orbit where they would be illuminated 24 hours a day (except for short eclipse periods around the equinoxes). Thus, unlike systems for the terrestrial capture of solar, a space-based system would not be limited by the vagaries of the day-night cycle. Furthermore, if the transmission frequency is properly chosen, delivery of power can be carried out essentially independent of weather conditions. Thus Space Solar Power could provide base load electricity.