Vacationing at the beach always provokes amazing sensory experiences. Everything about lounging in the sand soaking up sunshine, hearing waves crash along the shore, feeling a gentle breeze, and watching a sunset infused with citrus colors relaxes the mind, body, and soul. Now picture an arc of sparkling white turbines dotting the horizon and reflecting the setting sun, their blades twirling as waves tumble below. The image in itself is striking, made only more majestic by the prospect of a clean energy future. The ability to build turbines that each produce 6 megawatts of clean energy in offshore locations seems unreal. Wind capturing technology has made incredible strides since grain-grinding mills first became widespread, but something is holding it back from reaching its potential.
“Space-based solar? That’s a blast from the past,” says Dr. Laura Kay, Ann Whitney Olin Professor of Astronomy at Barnard College of Columbia University. “It’s not quite as crazy as the people who want to mine the moon for resources, but it’s out there.”
Kay’s reaction is highly indicative of the scientific community as a whole: space-based solar power is seen as a quaint idea from yesteryear that is too unfeasible to implement. SBSP gets a bad rap, and yet it represents a real possibility to change the way humanity creates energy to run the world.
The energy market has always been at the forefront of politics, though recent arguments seem like no more than a pissing match between the fossil fuel industry and everyone else. Many decisions have been made not for the overall pros or cons of a particular sector, but based on who can raise more funding—and more hell—in Washington.
Subsidies, Tax-breaks, and the Obama Administration
The Obama administration has made it a point to support and promote renewable energy resources. In 2012, President Obama’s campaign focused on wind energy as a realistic and effective supplier of power for states like Iowa and Colorado, promising to extend a renewable energy production tax credit while he was in office. Now, in 2014, over $14 billion has been granted to wind energy contractors since 2009, either in the form of this production tax credit, or as part of a renewable energy subsidy afforded by Obama’s stimulus package.
SBSP As Disaster Relief and Third-World Electrification
On Tuesday night, April 1st, 2014, a massive earthquake registering at 8.2 magnitude struck in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Northern Chile, sending deadly tsunami waves racing toward the coast, and leaving the nation in a state of emergency. Only in the early hours of the disaster thus far, it’s not yet clear what the scope of the damage is.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the globe, the residents whose homes were affected by the nuclear reactor meltdown in Fukushima, Japan in 2011 are only just now being allowed to return to their homes, the decontamination of the site finally completed, despite fear that dangerous radiation from the disaster still lingers. Nuclear power is one renewable option for weaning our world off fossil fuels, but clearly nuclear is not without its major faults.
All the while, the world still depends overwhelmingly on fossil fuels to power our lives, both for the everyday and in case of disasters like the ones in Chile and Fukushima. Not only do these fossil fuels spew carbon into the air, damaging our planet’s fragile climate and threatening all life on Earth, but our dependency on fossil fuels also has poor implications in cases of disaster. Even if aid workers make it to disaster sites, they might not have the power they need to run hospitals and government offices if the grid is down with infrastructure down.
One possible solution to our energy crisis is space-based solar power, and its potential for use in disaster relief efforts is staggering. With the touch of a button here on Earth, technicians could shift the satellites beaming the sun power down to earth, focusing extra power to the locations on Earth where energy is most needed.
Wind is a natural phenomenon that occurs when molecules move freely in response to differences in air pressure. Likewise, energy can be harnessed for human consumption when blades of a turbine move in response to these innate fluctuations. Wind farming allows for the production of relatively clean energy. The price of this energy, however, is far from free.