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Tapping Solar Wind's Renewable Energy

CmdrTaco posted more than 3 years ago | from the hope-that-works-out-for-ya dept.

Power 277

A few folks noted a story making the rounds about the huge energy potential just blowing past the planet in the form of solar wind. This research involves putting a satellite into orbit with a thousand-meter cable and a 5,000-mile sail to generate more power than the earth currently uses.

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277 comments

Sounds great... (2, Funny)

shadowrat (1069614) | more than 3 years ago | (#33807848)

However, when you consider that the solar wind is the only thing keeping the aliens at bay, you might think twice about disrupting them.

Re:Sounds great... (1)

commodore64_love (1445365) | more than 3 years ago | (#33808196)

Last time NASA tried to string a tether, the space aliens cut it. I know I've seen the proof on video.

/end crazy mode

But seriously. This is a great idea for powering space stations and such, but how the heck do you get the power back to the ground? You'll lose a lot of power during transmission from satellite to ground. More importantly how do you avoid killing people with the heat wave? If you thought the Parabolic Hotel was a hot spot, wait until a satellite error makes the megawatt beam go careening across civilization.

What would should be doing is looking for realistic solutions:
- Depopulate: Less babies == less humans == less need for energy
- Convert from nonrenewable oil/plastics to renewable vegetable oils and wood
- Build homes like the Passiv Haus that don't need heat (because they are 99.9% perfect insulators) i.e. Reduce energy use

Re:Sounds great... (1, Informative)

Robert Zenz (1680268) | more than 3 years ago | (#33808382)

You might wanna re-read the summary...it would be using a cable.

Re:Sounds great... (2, Informative)

anUnhandledException (1900222) | more than 3 years ago | (#33808462)

You might wanna re-re-read the summary.

The cable is (depending on size of sail) less than 1 km long.

Thus it would be sail -> up to 1km cable --> orbiting power sat ----- ? ----> earth

The ? is either a laser or microwave.

Re:Sounds great... (2, Insightful)

jameskojiro (705701) | more than 3 years ago | (#33808468)

Microwaves can be attenuated so they don't react with critters on the ground but only are picked up by specially calibrated receiver.

I think we need MORE energy, how else do you suppose we should climb the Kardashev scale from Type 0 to Type 1 civilisation?

I think we could increase the population by expanding out to space so that we have a couple hundred Trillion people living in our solar system and expand to other solar systems at least until we run into other intelligent life.

Whenever I hear someone mention depopulation as a good idea I shudder. Just HOW do you suppose you are going to accomplish that?

Re:Sounds great... (4, Funny)

ComaVN (325750) | more than 3 years ago | (#33808554)

Whenever I hear someone mention depopulation as a good idea I shudder. Just HOW do you suppose you are going to accomplish that?

A death ray powered by a solar wind collector, obviously.

It's right there in the summary, sheesh.

Re:Sounds great... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33808698)

I think we need MORE energy, how else do you suppose we should climb the Kardashev scale from Type 0 to Type 1 civilisation?

All true; we need more energy. But somehow harvesting the sun's farts just seems wrong.

Drag (1, Funny)

Sarten-X (1102295) | more than 3 years ago | (#33807850)

Am I the only one slightly concerned about this idea turning the Earth into an interstellar spacecraft, solving the global warming problem permanently (as far as humans are concerned)?

Re:Drag (3, Insightful)

SatanicPuppy (611928) | more than 3 years ago | (#33807936)

You understand that the Earth is already out in the solar wind, right? With a surface area vastly larger than the proposed sail? If we were going to blow away, it'd have already happened.

Re:Drag (0, Troll)

Sarten-X (1102295) | more than 3 years ago | (#33808036)

That realization does nothing to assuage my small but persistent fears.

Re:Drag (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33808150)

Your fears are about as substantial as Chicken Little's over the sky falling.

Re:Drag (4, Funny)

MightyMartian (840721) | more than 3 years ago | (#33807938)

Am I the only one slightly concerned about this idea turning the Earth into an interstellar spacecraft, solving the global warming problem permanently (as far as humans are concerned)?

-1 Moronic

Re:Drag (3, Insightful)

eln (21727) | more than 3 years ago | (#33808040)

The first two men on the moon are world famous, but very few people can name who the third or fourth are, or indeed any of the others. Clearly, being first is hugely important. If you're first, you get bragging rights and endless book deals even if you're not a very good writer (I'm looking at you, Buzz). If you're not first, all you get to do is go around telling everyone you hit golf balls on the moon in hopes of getting invited to speak at an elementary school assembly.

With this in mind, deciding who will be the first on Mars is hugely important. When the time comes, everyone is going to be fighting to be the first person to set foot on Mars, and since the mission will likely be international in nature, global politics also will come into play in making the decision. Therefore, the perfect solution was devised: Let everyone be first! So, we're going to tie a huge solar sail to the Earth and bring the entire planet to Mars at once. This way there's no arguing, and everyone will be happy.

Re:Drag (1)

Sarten-X (1102295) | more than 3 years ago | (#33808110)

Perfect! Now instead of fearing that we'll be casting ourselves off into space, I can just fear that we won't get the timing/direction right!

I remember Shoemaker-Levy 9. It did not end well for the inhabitants.

With paranoia, you're never alone.

Re:Drag (1)

blueturffan (867705) | more than 3 years ago | (#33808136)

From memory:

Apollo 12: Pete Conrad / Gordon Bean
Apollo 13: Did not land
Apollo 14: Alan Shepard / Edgar Mitchell
Apollo 15: Scott / Worden?
Apollo 16: John Young / Charlie Duke
Apollo 17: Gene Cernan / Harrison "Jack" Schmitt

I'm pretty sure about the 3rd - 6th men to walk on the moon, as well as 11-12. The others are a little iffy...

Re:Drag (1)

commodore64_love (1445365) | more than 3 years ago | (#33808368)

Who cares if you're first? You've still done something 99.9999999% of the other humans never did. Even something as trivial as saying, My name is on Mars* makes people go "oooh really?". People are easily impressed. I'm sure "Hi I'm Gene Cerman and I walked on the moon" will get him laid at any party.

*
*Back when Carl Sagan was still alive, he convinced NASA to include the names of everyone who donated towards the Mars Rover program. My name is one of those, printed in tiny 0.01 point type along with several thousand other people. Not a big deal really, but it's good for parties and ditzy blondes ("Mars? Is that a zodiac sign?").

Re:Drag (1)

ePhil_One (634771) | more than 3 years ago | (#33808444)

I thought it was neat that he ranted against the SECOND man on the moon in his post about people only remembering the first.

Re:Drag (1)

eln (21727) | more than 3 years ago | (#33808646)

I did specifically say "the first two" at the very beginning of the post in order to allow for my crack at Buzz later on. Nothing personal against Buzz, he seems like a nice enough guy, but his last book was, in my view, not very good at all.

Re:Drag (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33808348)

Thank you, that was the funniest post I've ever read on /..

Political obstacle not technological (3, Insightful)

assemblerex (1275164) | more than 3 years ago | (#33807852)

The first thing any government will ask is: "So who will be in control of all the world's power?"

Re:Political obstacle not technological (1)

binarylarry (1338699) | more than 3 years ago | (#33807884)

Like anything else in politics: "Whoever paid for it"

No, it doesn't work that way (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33808052)

No, it doesn't work that way. Gallileo satellite system. Paid for by Europe. Had to change to accommodate US interests.

Or Else.

So, your assertion should be: like with anything else in politics: "Whoever has the biggest wish to use a gun".

Re:Political obstacle not technological (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33808128)

Like anything else in politics: "Whoever paid for it"

Unless, of course it is paid for by the taxpayer, in which case you can be sure any profits will be siphoned off into the pockets of "campaign contributors".

Re:Political obstacle not technological (1)

sholsinger (1131365) | more than 3 years ago | (#33807890)

It would have to be tethered in international waters. Where a global energy cartel shall hold it's operations headquarters. And sell energy to the highest bidder.

Re:Political obstacle not technological (3, Insightful)

SatanicPuppy (611928) | more than 3 years ago | (#33807908)

Goes without saying no-one would cooperate on this, so, obviously, whoever gets off their ass and builds it.

And it's not about "who controls all the worlds power"...That doesn't even make sense from a commodity selling standpoint. Whoever launches it becomes a big time energy trader, until such a time as everyone else gets pissed at them, and shoots down their satellite.

Re:Political obstacle not technological (1)

vlm (69642) | more than 3 years ago | (#33808658)

The first thing any government will ask is: "So who will be in control of all the world's power?"

This is assuming only one can/will be built. Seems very unlikely.

More likely is major regional ... disagreement. For example, if Israel gets one, where will their neighbors get power?

Re:Political obstacle not technological (2, Insightful)

fridaynightsmoke (1589903) | more than 3 years ago | (#33808716)

The first thing any government will ask is: "So who will be in control of all the world's power?"

Nobody. What would actually happen is that whoever controls the satellite would have to sell the power at a price it will sell at, i.e not more than other power generators are selling for.

Unless of course the owners of the satellite buy out/bribe governments for control over every other generator of electrical power in the world; in which case the maximum price will be when a substantial number of power consumers are willing to switch to microgeneration/hydraulic power/whatever.

It is true that someone (be that a government, corporation or both) would be in charge of a huge chunk of energy production, but not at all in a "I control all the world's power MWAHAHAHA!!" way.

frikkin laser beams (1)

Zeek40 (1017978) | more than 3 years ago | (#33807860)

I played that version of SimCity. The IR Laser beam always ended up incenerating my town.

Hmm. (2, Interesting)

SatanicPuppy (611928) | more than 3 years ago | (#33807862)

If the satellite is attached to a 5000km sail, which is spread so as to catch the solar wind, what's to stop it from blowing away?

Also, who gets to volunteer to have the bazillo-watt microwave laser pointed at them? I've played sim city. I know it's only a matter of time before the satellite moves and cuts a firey swatch through my town!

Re:Hmm. (4, Interesting)

maxume (22995) | more than 3 years ago | (#33808026)

Just boil the Atlantic and harvest energy from the larger, more predictable hurricanes.

Re:Hmm. (2, Informative)

corbettw (214229) | more than 3 years ago | (#33808500)

Plus, you could just pick out lobsters precooked and ready to eat straight from the ocean!

Re:Hmm. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33808580)

We won't have to worry about the microwave laser burning down a city if we just turn disasters off!

Original article (4, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33807912)

Click me. [newscientist.com] This article is paywalled after you read a few stories, but the paywall is a javascript popup. Noscript lets you read the article.

mixed units (1)

alex_guy_CA (748887) | more than 3 years ago | (#33807920)

"thousand meter cable, and 5,000 mile sail" Meters and miles. Isn't this use of mixed units the error that doomed a mars satellite?

Re:mixed units (4, Funny)

Smallpond (221300) | more than 3 years ago | (#33808106)

"thousand meter cable, and 5,000 mile sail" Meters and miles. Isn't this use of mixed units the error that doomed a mars satellite?

That's ok, the energy unit that they use is the kilohome:

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.

You can convert that to English units using Home's Law.

"...then the earth currently uses..." (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33807934)

...what?

Then what? What happens next? Don't leave me in suspense!

Weird (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33807940)

If we had the energy and resources to build such a thing, we wouldn't need to. As with all Space Nuttery, this makes no sense at all. First it's space-based solar arrays with ground-based microwave antennas. When that has been shown with high-school math to be completely deluded, move on to the next unrealistic, irrational, unbuildable sci-fi fantasy!

Typo (2, Insightful)

men0s (1413347) | more than 3 years ago | (#33807946)

A few folks noted a story making the rounds about the huge energy potential just blowing passed the planet in the form of solar winds.

Really? Editors don't read the first sentence of a submission?

Re:Typo (1, Redundant)

SatanicPuppy (611928) | more than 3 years ago | (#33807958)

You must be new here.

Re:Typo (2, Funny)

a_n_d_e_r_s (136412) | more than 3 years ago | (#33808002)

You must be new here.

Cause we always have new people complaining about the editors.

Re:Typo (1)

danbert8 (1024253) | more than 3 years ago | (#33808172)

This site has EDITORS? I thought it was just a place where random people submitted crap and then other random people posted goatse links and soviet russia jokes, and then grammar nazis romp and play...

Re:Typo (1)

killmenow (184444) | more than 3 years ago | (#33808202)

You must be new here.

Cause we always have people complaining about people complaining about the editors.

Re:Typo (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33808008)

There's more.

A few folks noted a story making the rounds about the huge energy potential just blowing passed the planet in the form of solar winds. This research involves putting a satellite into orbit with a thousand meter cable, and 5,000 mile sail to generate more power then the earth currently uses.

How about we just stop toying around... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33807970)

...with all this hippie "renewable" energy crap and instead just build more nuclear power?

GLOBAL WARMING (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33807974)

just how much extra radiation from the sun can we survive?

5000 mile sail (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33808044)

Good luck with that.

A 1000 meter cable--- (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33808048)

If we put this 5000 mile wide "sail" up at an altitude of, oh, let's say 350 miles. Where is this 3000 foot cable attached.

Okay, one end on the sail, and the other end to something at 349.5 miles?

Re:A 1000 meter cable--- (1)

Sarten-X (1102295) | more than 3 years ago | (#33808188)

Supposedly, a satellite. That satellite would then fire an infrared laser beam down to earth, with 100 billion times the power of what Earth currently uses.

What could possibly go wrong?

Could seriously change humanity (2, Interesting)

iONiUM (530420) | more than 3 years ago | (#33808050)

So I always thought fusion would be the first thing to provide an infinite resource (electricity), but it looks like this is a more viable (read: closer) solution.

If humanity gets one resource that is in essence, infinite, it would seriously change our race. I hope, for the better.

Re:Could seriously change humanity (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33808614)

Fusion power have always been about 20 years in the future. The cable they are talking about have been considered for space elevators and are about 50 years in the future.

Bizarre number choice (3, Interesting)

wonkavader (605434) | more than 3 years ago | (#33808058)

OK, if we put up a rectangle 8,000 kilometers by 8,000 kilometers, it'll produce 100,000,000,000,000 times the energy we need.

WHY DON'T THEY SUGGEST A 1 KILOMETER BY 1 KILOMETER SAIL?

What's going on here? Did the guys being interviewed say something reasonable, and then also abstract it to a high number for the reporter, and the reporter only decided to write up the insane, absurd, bizarrely huge number? Or were the guys being interviewed just nuts?

Re:Bizarre number choice (1)

KumquatOfSolace (1412203) | more than 3 years ago | (#33808246)

I think their point is that it scales up very well. The sail material is relatively cheap, and the main cost would be deploying it and getting the power back to earth, so it probably makes sense to use a really, really big sail. The bigger you make it, the cheaper it will be (per GW), much more so than any existing sources of power. Of course, that assumes the power transmission can also be scaled up, and they haven't figured out that part yet.

Re:Bizarre number choice (2, Insightful)

gbjbaanb (229885) | more than 3 years ago | (#33808512)

they also ignored any engineering difficulties. Probably the problem of building a sail 5000 miles wide. ... that and redundancy in case of accident or failed components. I'd rather have several smaller ones than one humungously large one that produces more Watts than I can count.

Re:Bizarre number choice (2, Insightful)

ceoyoyo (59147) | more than 3 years ago | (#33808416)

The article gives a 10 m x 10 m sail (1000 homes) as an example, and then goes off the deep end. It SOUNDS like it might be practical if you could figure out the power beaming problem, but in order to arrive at that conclusion you have to do your own math.

ISS (3, Interesting)

geekoid (135745) | more than 3 years ago | (#33808062)

Why don't they test this by powering the ISS?

Re:ISS (4, Funny)

Rik Sweeney (471717) | more than 3 years ago | (#33808152)

Don't be nasty. Just because a lot of Microsoft's products are resource hogs doesn't mean they all are.

Oh wait, you said ISS...

Re:ISS (1)

ionix5891 (1228718) | more than 3 years ago | (#33808206)

aint the ISS in low earth orbit while all the solar wind is way out outside the protective belts?

how do you get power to a station in a different orbit as well...

Re:ISS (1)

geekoid (135745) | more than 3 years ago | (#33808668)

Obviously you would have a laser beem send the energy to the space station. That would ne a critical part of testing what they talk about in the article.

Re:ISS (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33808440)

Because reality doesn't interest the wide-eyed delusional Space Nutters. They want dreams and emotions, and that solves all problems. Actual engineering? Not interested. Sci-fi, delusions, utter misunderstandings of basic physical reality and complete ignorance of just how limited we are, that's the central belief system of Space Nuttery.

Renewable (2, Insightful)

6031769 (829845) | more than 3 years ago | (#33808066)

Er, in what way do you suppose the solar wind is "renewable"?

Re:Renewable (4, Informative)

nedlohs (1335013) | more than 3 years ago | (#33808166)

In the exact same way that solar power is considered renewable, and hyrdo power is considered renewable, and wood burning power is considered renewable.

Yes when the sun comes to the end of its life all of those stop. But there are bigger issues at that point...

Re:Renewable (4, Funny)

SatanicPuppy (611928) | more than 3 years ago | (#33808228)

Obviously, you just remember to plant a new star so it'll be ready by the time the old one burns out.

That's just common sense.

Re:Renewable (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33808710)

Well technically I guess it isn't renewable, anymore than the sun isn't renewable.

Re:Renewable (1, Informative)

rossdee (243626) | more than 3 years ago | (#33808756)

Compared to fossil fuels it isn't going to run out any time soon. Peak oil is in a few years to a few decades, peak solar output is just before it turns into a red giant a few billion years from now.

Sail Envy (4, Insightful)

MonsterTrimble (1205334) | more than 3 years ago | (#33808072)

This is what got me:

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.

So why would we build one sail, which would be a target and fought over by countries and an untold number of businessess when you could run up a bunch of smaller sails? Easier to build and maintain, which lowers the barrier to entry and stops the wars and lawsuits which would inevitably break out over THE sail. I guess you have to dream big, but like anything, start small.

Re:Sail Envy (1)

SatanicPuppy (611928) | more than 3 years ago | (#33808262)

That's grant-speak. They want money to test it, so they talk about it as the end-all, be-all, when it'd be more realistic to talk about in terms of smaller, more practical units.

Even if you built a full-size model, there would be no practical way to get the power back to earth.

Re:Sail Envy (1)

xednieht (1117791) | more than 3 years ago | (#33808350)

1. because that is too logical for moron politicians
2. leeches , er. lawyers need jobs too
3. that's such a populist/socialist idea only a backwards nation like China would do such a thing
4. war is good for the economy
5. all the above

Re:Sail Envy (3, Informative)

stubob (204064) | more than 3 years ago | (#33808356)

Launch costs. I'm assuming these will be in geo-synchronous orbit, rather than LEO, so the cost to orbit would be higher.

Reading the article, the larger sized calculations are for example, and not very realistic. How would you unfurl an 8,400 km sail from a current launch vehicle?

Re:Sail Envy (1)

ceoyoyo (59147) | more than 3 years ago | (#33808464)

I'm not so sure it would be a good idea to have hundreds of these things and their attached gigawatt lasers, all aimed at Earth.

One big international one might be a good idea. In order to "just redirect the beam for a few seconds" you have to convince everyone... good luck.

Re:Sail Envy (1)

ImprovOmega (744717) | more than 3 years ago | (#33808522)

This is what got me:

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.

So why would we build one sail, which would be a target and fought over by countries and an untold number of businesses when you could run up a bunch of smaller sails?

There wouldn't be any countries left to fight over our one sail after we death ray them with more energy than the earth currently uses.

Just so I'm clear... (3, Insightful)

Last_Available_Usern (756093) | more than 3 years ago | (#33808102)

They're proposing we build a sail that when viewed two-dimensionally next to Earth is over half the size of the entire planet? Even if you ignore the issue of space debris punching holes in this thing left and right the logistics of creating and "stitching" this together in space are unbelievable.

It is admirable... (0)

geogob (569250) | more than 3 years ago | (#33808134)

...how TFA perfectly identifies the only big shortfall of this highly feasible project... ...

Either the author is totally clueless or lacks the simple imagination simple imagination to foresee all the other shortfalls of this silly idea (I wouldn't even dare to call this a 'project').

Of course, there's a lot of potential in solar win (no pun intended), but exploiting it as TFA describes it and for the use TFA proposes would fit perfectly in the children sci-fi/future books from the 70'. I can only hope they totally misunderstood and misreported the original work at WSU.

Not exactly new (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33808148)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Space-based_solar_power

I would not be too worried about getting (1)

Shivetya (243324) | more than 3 years ago | (#33808184)

the power down to the Earth but being able to get a satellite into orbit where the components can handle the power coming off the line and converted to the beam. Wouldn't the conversion generate a lot of heat?

Lets play with the heat idea a bit. (2, Insightful)

cmiller173 (641510) | more than 3 years ago | (#33808504)

Lets play with the heat idea a bit, but from another perspective.

From TFA:

The rest of the energy would power an infrared laser beam, which would help fulfill the whole planet's energy needs day and night regardless of environmental conditions.

The main shortfall of this approach is that over the millions of miles between the satellite and Earth, even the tightest laser beam would spread out and lose a lot of its original energy.

So the tight infrared laser would diffuse in the atmosphere? infrared = heat right? and that energy lost is into the earths atmosphere, right?

Think about the french fries under the infrared heat lamp at the fast food place down the road...

Moon Base (2, Insightful)

fadethepolice (689344) | more than 3 years ago | (#33808230)

This seems like it would be more applicable to powering a future moon base and manufacturing fuel for interplanetary travel there.

Cable - Why Not? (1)

airwedge1 (1768544) | more than 3 years ago | (#33808242)

Why not combine the concept with the space elevator concept, and just put a direct cable in between earth and space, the cable can they have a dual function. Granted you might need a really thick cable to carry so much energy, but seems like it might work.

Re:Cable - Why Not? (1)

NEDHead (1651195) | more than 3 years ago | (#33808386)

Why yes m'aam, you will be traveling up the elevator to space along a cable carrying 100 giga gigawatts of power, but it is perfectly safe.

Re:Cable - Why Not? (1)

geekoid (135745) | more than 3 years ago | (#33808602)

because there will never be a space elevator? The space elevator is this generations 'flying car'.

Point the laser somewhere else (3, Insightful)

RichMan (8097) | more than 3 years ago | (#33808264)

I vote they point that honking big power laser at the moon for a couple of years so they can work out any bugs in the targeting control system.

They can always use the power to work on in-situ zone refinement of lunar material.
Or carve honking big glowing letters into the moon and sell the advertising space to fund the work.

Units of measure. (1)

Xoltri (1052470) | more than 3 years ago | (#33808276)

Didn't Nasa teach us anything? 5000 mile and 1000 meter? Pick a unit and stick with it!

Unit coherency (1)

daem0n1x (748565) | more than 3 years ago | (#33808458)

Dude, get your units straight? Metres and then miles? Be consistent, 5000 miles are 8000 Km! Is it that hard?
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