Whorled View

June 24, 2007

Space-Based Solar Optics to Power and Protect Earth

Further brainstorming over a solar array / weapons defense system did produce one interesting possibility: a low-cost space-based mirror array for CSP (concentrated solar power). The idea seems silly at first glance because it seems far easier to place the optics on earth close to the energy converting apparatus – however some out-of-the-box thinking (as shown below) reveals that space-based optics could be far easier, cheaper, maintenance free, and effective than an earth-based solution (note that optics can be the biggest cost and maintenance for CSP):

1) Orbiting the earth are giant concave mirrors (parabolic in shape), each 7 square miles in area made from ultrathin reflective fabric (like mylar) stretched between 3 structural points (2 miles between each point in this example). Each mirror keeps its parabolic shape by solar wind. Secondary optics are also located at the focal point of the mirror and continually adjust to redirect the beam of concentrated light back to a receiving solar plant on the earth where the suns rays would be converted to usable energy.

Space Based Parabolic Reflective Fabric Mirrors
Above: a small section of a giant array of parabolic reflective fabric mirrors.

2) Innumerable additional 7 sq.mile mirrors can be simply added, each requiring only one additional structural point, 7 more square miles of reflective fabric, and optics at the focal point of each mirror to send the concentrated solar power to a receiving solar plant on earth.

3) The incoming solar power would be distributed among receiving solar plants strategically placed on earth, so each plant would receive the maximum amount of suns possible without damaging the energy conversion facilities. Maintenance could be performed on these earth-based solar plants at night.

The solar reflectors, being in the vacuum of space, would never require any kind of maintenance. Periodic adjustments can be made to keep them approximately facing the sun via temporarily collapsing one mirror to let solar wind push the array back into orientation. The focal point optics necessary to send each mirrors rays to the right location on earth would be powered by solar power of course.

Oh yeah, another thing … this can indeed also be used as an anti-missile defense system if multiple arrays are used, providing round-the-clock protection, while being tons cheaper than any other Star-Wars type technology. It overcomes all the problems of the Solar Missile Defense scenario posed below and has countless advantages.

Also, nighttime surveillance in other parts of the would could be as easy as turning on a light bulb, and can you imagine the psychological effect it could have on the enemy?

June 23, 2007

World largest Solar Array as Anti-missile Defense

Just now one of my neurons dedicated to solar power just misfired into the part of my brain reserved for missile defense technology and I had a Reese’s moment … why don’t we mix the two?!

Solar Two Heliostat Array
Solar Two facility in California

All the top scientists agree that the best renewable energy is CSP (concentrated solar power), and 100’s if not 1000’s of CSP plants need to be deployed if solar is to provide the bulk of our nation’s energy. Refocusing all 1 million mirrors on the incoming missile is just a matter of a million stepper motors and calibration (could periodically done with a satellite, one mirror at a time).

Another beautiful hypothesis destroyed by an ugly fact.

I’m certain that focusing the power of a million suns on a warhead will destroy the electronics within a few seconds rendering the missile useless.

Then the other neuron in my brain kicked in and reminded me that solar arrays only work 10 hours/day (oh yeah, duh!). Besides, due to the curvature of the earth it won’t work until the missiles are nearly in striking range (again, oh yeah, duh!).

Okay. Another beautiful hypothesis destroyed by an ugly fact. Make that 2 ugly facts. I’m sure I could think up some more ugly facts if given more time. Back to the drawing board. I suppose we could always use solar purely for the far less glitzy cause: saving the planet. Ho hum.

May 22, 2007

Will Energy Conservation Ever Make Any Difference?

Will energy conservation ever make any difference? I wish.

Leonardo DeCaprio’s “11th Hour” eco-doomsday docu-drama has just been unleashed. This is following Al Gore’s “Inconvenient Truth”, which I recently saw. Undoubtedly DeCaprio will propose that we solve a very real problem with the equivalent of stopping a fire hydrant with a stick of buble gum, ie: better light bulbs, less driving, more trees, more efficient appliances, and more efficient cars.

“…we are spending far too much energy and time on squeezing out energy efficiency … what we really need is more energy and it has to be clean and it has to be cheap.” – Dr Klaus Lackner

Instead of spending big bucks on those 2 movies why don’t you watch a video of Physicist Dr. Klaus Lackner from the “earth institute” at Columbia University for free (http://www.earthinstitute.columbia.edu/crosscutting/energy.html). It’s over 1 1/2 hours, but is so worth it. He demonstrates how futile most “energy conservation measures” are while providing you with the truly viable solutions to the greenhouse gas problem. At a minimum, I can guarantee you that you will be far more empowered after watching Dr. Lackner than you will after watching any Hollywood produced film. Why? Because afterwards you’ll know what you need to do to really make a difference: Change the way we make electricity, not just the way we use it.

You’ll learn that (based on math) Americans will have to reduce CO2 emissions by 97% just to keep the current environmental levels of CO2 constant. That means driving your car only 1day/month. That means only using electricity 2 days / month. If you wanted to plant enough trees to compensate for existing levels using reforestation only then you’d have to quadruple the # of full grown trees currently in existence.

The math says that even if severe energy conservation efforts are legislated, doing so will only buy us an extra 5 years before it’s too late.

The math says that even if severe energy conservation efforts are legislated, doing so will only buy us an extra 5 years before it’s too late. What we need is practically ZERO emissions from both power plants and vehicles. What we need is massive energy generation restructuring for both grid power and vehicles. Within 50 years (preferably sooner) all power must be generated by renewable sources, and cars must use that power be it through hydrogen or electric.

If everyone could put solar panels on their roof they you’d have a solution, but that costs 40K per roof – completely nonviable for 99% of Americans (and the subsidies would bankrupt the government). Don’t get me wrong … solar is the answer, but it will be solar at $0.03/kWh from a power-plant (most likely thermal, not PV), as compared to the true cost of today’s rooftop solar panels (PV) that average $0.33 kWh over their lifetime.

Americans will have to reduce CO2 emissions by 97% just to keep the current environmental levels of CO2 constant

In the meantime, scrubbers can be added to existing power facilities to totally remove all carbon emissions, at a cost of about 0.03$/kWh. That’s a 30% increase in energy costs, but for clean energy that’s pretty good. Not as good as current solar thermal rates, but it is close. Nuclear is also a viable alternative in the meantime (though not my favorite choice, when existing solar thermal can produce similar rates to nuclear).

Vehicles are a much more challenging problem because the operating costs of zero-emmision cars will never be competitive with fossil fuel cars. Why because nearly half of the power of fossil fuel is lost in the process of converting to electricity or hydrogen, sending that medium to the point of consumption, and then discharging that power through a motor. The only way around the problem is that at some point most fossil-fuel based vehicles will have to be made illegal. Now we’re talking about 40-50 years down the road, but that’s not too far away.

So should you conserve electricity? Heck yes. It may only make a few years of difference, but from what I can see, we’re going to need every year possible. Just remember to spend more time writing your elected officials and telling your friends about real solutions. And watch Dr. Lackner’s presentation from the earth institute (see the video on the right of this page) if you haven’t done that yet. You’ll be glad you did.

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