Published on: July 24, 2008Now available on iTunes…
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Hi, I’m Kevin Coupe, and this is MorningNewsBeat Radio, brought to you by Webstop, experts in the art of retail website design.
I was thumbing through the New York Times yesterday and I was astonished to read the following on the Op-Ed page, in a column authored by O. Glenn Smith, the former manager of science and applications experiments for the International Space Station at NASA’s Johnson Space Center:
“As we face $4.50 a gallon gas, we also know that alternative energy sources — coal, oil shale, ethanol, wind and ground-based solar — are either of limited potential, very expensive, require huge energy storage systems or harm the environment. There is, however, one potential future energy source that is environmentally friendly, has essentially unlimited potential and can be cost competitive with any renewable source: space solar power.
“Science fiction? Actually, no — the technology already exists. A space solar power system would involve building large solar energy collectors in orbit around the Earth. These panels would collect far more energy than land-based units, which are hampered by weather, low angles of the sun in northern climes and, of course, the darkness of night.”
That’s pretty amazing…but here’s where the piece really caught my attention:
“Once collected, the solar energy would be safely beamed to Earth via wireless radio transmission, where it would be received by antennas near cities and other places where large amounts of power are used. The received energy would then be converted to electric power for distribution over the existing grid. Government scientists have projected that the cost of electric power generation from such a system could be as low as 8 to 10 cents per kilowatt-hour, which is within the range of what consumers pay now.
“In terms of cost effectiveness, the two stumbling blocks for space solar power have been the expense of launching the collectors and the efficiency of their solar cells. Fortunately, the recent development of thinner, lighter and much higher efficiency solar cells promises to make sending them into space less expensive and return of energy much greater.”
I don’t think I am understating the case when I say that this is amazing. My only question is this: Why aren’t we doing this already?
It sounds to me like space solar power could be a real game changer. Harness that kind of electric power, and the nation becomes far less dependent on fossil fuels. Electric cars become a much better investment for both car companies and consumers. (And, by the way, there were stories out yesterday saying that Mini plans to have electric cars in the marketplace next year, and that Nissan will have them by 2010.) The economic impact, the geo-political impact, the environmental impact – all of these would be enormous. Think of the employment that would be created by such a project. Think of the ability to coalesce often-divergent interests around a noble and worthy goal. In fact, the only people I can think of who would be against it would be oil-rich nations and the big oil companies. I don't care much about the former, and the latter certainly could get involved in this enterprise…but that would be up to them. Play by the changed rules, or don't play.
Think about how it would change your business – from how you light and power your stores to how you fuel your fleet of trucks. Think about how nice it would be to have a confident, employed and better empowered (in a number of senses of that word) customer base.
Seems to me that no matter who prevails in the US elections this November – John McCain or Barack Obama – the winner ought to make a commitment on January 21, 2009, the day after his inauguration, that a space solar energy project will be tested and, if viable, completed and in place by January 19, 2017…which would be the day before the next president is inaugurated, assuming that McCain or Obama serves two terms. By 2017, the president ought to say, the US will no longer be held hostage by foreign governments that control the price and flow of oil.
According to Smith’s piece, we’ve already spent more than $100 billion on the space shuttle and space station programs…and this would be a perfect way to convert the knowledge and expertise that we’ve developed in outer space into not just a program that will have enormously positive geo-political and environmental implications, but one that could lift the spirits and inspire the nation and the world in the same what that President Kennedy did when he set out traveling to the moon as a goal back in the early sixties.
I don't know about you, but I am astounded by the notion that the technology exists today to make energy travel from outer space to the Earth’s surface via radio waves. That’s extraordinary. And again, I don't know about you, but pursuing this technology – while it would be what Jim Collins would call a “big, hairy, audacious goal” – strikes me as a way to get back on offense. Lately, it seems like we’ve been spending time playing defense on a wide number of fronts. I’m tired of it.
It’s time to shoot for the stars. Literally, not just metaphorically.
For MorningNewsBeat Radio, I’m Kevin Coupe.
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