OFF INTO THE WILD WET YONDER How does this...
Move Aside, Dr. Evil… Japan Is Developing a Solar Power “Laser”
For some time now, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Ltd. (MHI) has been exploring technology that could potentially be used to transmit solar power from space down to Earth. Known as Space Solar Power Systems (SSPS), these are anticipated to be the dominant power source of the future.
The potential of this technology was recently demonstrated by MHI—in collaboration with Japan Space Systems, a foundation funded by the Japanese government—at MHI’s Kobe Shipyard and Machinery Works in Japan.
In the demonstration, 10 KW was successfully sent via microwaves to a receiver located 500 m (1,650 ft) away.
Surprising as this may be to hear, it is not exactly a breakthrough.
First proposed in the late 60s, active research on the concept began in earnest only decades later. It was in 2008 that Japanese and American scientists successfully “beamed” power from one point to another.
Power from the top of a dormant volcano on Hawaii’s Maui was sent approximately 90 mi (150 km) to the Big Island. And while the amount of juice that made it through was only enough to light a 20-watt bulb, the technology did work.
MHI’s more recent experiment is noted for the successful control and operation of the power beam itself, and not just for a more efficient transmission of microwave power. This is one of the most important aspects of the project if it’s ever to evolve into a functioning way of collecting and sending solar power. After all, this would be enormous amounts of energy that they are dealing with, and nobody wants to see this type of technology inadvertently function as some sort of death laser from space.
If completed, the receiver units would be set up on an island in Tokyo Bay, at least initially. The power would come from an orbiting satellite outfitted with solar cell panels some 22,000 mi (36,000 km) above the Earth.
While a project of this scale is obviously many years away, there exists huge potential for more immediate (and more “on the ground”) applications. The technology could be used to transmit power from offshore wind turbines to regions that are too remote or rugged for towers and power lines. What’s more, MHI plans to refine this technology for use in charging electric cars.
If the SSPS does eventually become a reality, and if there is a way to guarantee that everyone down here doesn’t get fried by a stray beam, this could prove an invaluable next step in ending our dependency on fossil fuels.