A New Report Asks the US and India to Take Solar Energy Into Space

Several months ago, I mentioned the Shimizu Corporation’s plan to place solar panels on the moon to generate renewable energy that would be transferred back to Earth and distributed along power lines. Shimizu Corporation’s hope was that they could begin working on their project sometime in 2020 when Japan planned to have a solar powered base upon the moon. Now, a plan coming out of India is suggesting that it is time for India and the United States to form a partnership that would allow them to begin developing a program for space solar power.

The report pushing for space based solar energy was published by a think tank that is being supported by the Indian Defense Ministry with the aid of one Lieutenant Colonel Peter Garretson of the United States Air Force. The report lays out a three step plan that would have India and the United States entered into a commercial energy business venture that would be generating large quantities of solar energy from installations placed in orbit around the Earth. The first stage, according to the report, details how an investment of $10 - $30 million over the course of five years would be required to develop the technology required for both the satellites and the means in which to deliver them to space. The second step would see a further investment of nearly $10 billion over the course of ten years as the two countries developed a system to retrieve and sell the power on a commercial and industrial scale. The final scale would have the two countries establishing what the report calls an “international for-profit consortium … to address energy security and carbon mitigation concerns.” This would result in a fully realized program, ideally, by 2025.

The research and the proposed program for solar energy are mired in a variety of political obstacles. While the creation of a large scale solar program like this would go far in aiding India in cutting down on carbon emissions without taking up already precious city space they would be required to sign the Missile Technology Control Regime treaty. The agreement, which was signed in 1987 by several nations to prevent the proliferation of missile technology, has long been refused by India. The report also indicates that it would be necessary to coordinate their efforts with the United Nations and other countries in order to prepare for the increased amount of travel that would be going to and from Earth as a consequence of initiating this program. Though the political issues remain, the people involved are confident they would be easy to remedy and are optimistic that an agreement can be made between India and the United States regarding this program in November when President Obama plans to meet with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

Though some may be concerned that tossing more satellites into Earth’s orbit would be contributing to the already crowded situation going on up there, the fact remains that this would be a considerable leap forward for solar energy. Taking solar energy collection into space also presents an ideal alternative to countries like India or Japan who are faced with the obstacle of limited space within their nations for the construction of vast solar farms. With any luck, the next news we may hear about this project may come in November during the aforementioned visit.