World's First Orbiting Solar Farm May Supply Power to Fresno County

California's biggest energy utility announced a deal Monday to purchase 200 megawatts of electricity from a startup company that plans to beam the power down to Earth from outer space.

by / April 15, 2009
Orbiting Solar Farm Courtesy PG&E

A couple of days ago, on the Next100, a blog published by the Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E), it was announced that the company is seeking approval from state regulators for a power purchase agreement with Solaren Corp., a Southern California start-up that has contracted to deliver 200 megawatts of clean, renewable power over a 15 year period, beginning in 2016.

What's notable is that Solaren says it plans to generate the power using solar panels in earth orbit, then convert it to radio frequency energy for transmission to a receiving station in Fresno County. From there, the energy will be converted to electricity and fed into PG&E's power grid.

In an interview also published on the site, Solaren CEO Gary Spirnak emphasized that collecting solar energy in space and transmitting it to earth offers a significant untapped energy resource.

"The sun's energy is almost continuously available to a satellite located in a GEO orbit about the earth," he said, citing an October, 2007 US Department of Defense (DOD) National Space Security Office (NSSO) study which included representatives from DOE/NREL, DARPA, Boeing and Lockheed-Martin.

He said that a single kilometer wide band of geosynchronous earth orbit experiences enough solar flux in one year (approximately 212 terawatt-years) to nearly equal the amount of energy contained within all known recoverable conventional oil reserves on Earth today.

According to Jonathan Marshall, author of the blog post, Solaren's team includes satellite engineers and scientists, primarily from the U.S. Air Force and Hughes Aircraft Company, with decades of experience in the space industry. CEO, Gary Spirnak, was a spacecraft project engineer in the U.S. Air Force and director of advanced digital applications at Boeing Satellite Systems.

Jonathan Marshall, as well as being managing editor of Next100, is chief of external communications at PG&E Corporation.

"Space solar power systems appear to possess many significant environmental advantages when compared to alternative approaches to meeting increasing terrestrial demands for energy - including requiring considerably less land area than terrestrially-based solar power systems," writes Marshall. "From PG&E's perspective, as a supporter of new renewable energy technology, this project is a first-of-a-kind step worth taking. If Solaren succeeds, the world of clean energy will never be the same."

Photo courtesy of PG&E.


Blake Harris Editor