[ExI] power satellites

Keith Henson hkeithhenson at gmail.com
Wed Dec 17 18:52:19 UTC 2008

On Wed, Dec 17, 2008 at 5:09 AM, Tom Nowell <nebathenemi at yahoo.co.uk> wrote:
> Keith wrote:
> "If that's the way you feel about it--without doing the hard work of
> looking at a design to cost engineering effort--that's ok.  In which
> case, what do *you* propose to supply the cubic-mile-of-oil per year
> energy the human population needs to avoid famines and resource wars?
> The next best seems to be some 10 to 20 thousand nuclear reactors."
>Well, I'd reckon the most feasible solution is the combination of a couple of dozen small partial solutions.

How do you answer Dr. David MacKay's flat out statement that *no*
combination of small solutions will replace fossil fuels?

Or Dr. Guy McPherson's comment:

"I was a firm believer in solar, wind, and geothermal energy until a
few years ago, and I still believe they will help individuals. But no
combination of these "renewable" technologies will make a notable
difference at the level of 300 million Americans, much less the 6.5
people in the world.

>The problem with the powersat solution is that it requires one big, solid financial commitment that must be reliably maintained until it is seen through to completion. To avoid Space Shuttle/International Waste of Space Station/ anything the USAF has commissioned in the past few decades/ anything the UK military has commissioned since 1980 problems, you need to avoid having design changes and major shifts of focus half way through.

You have made an unwarranted assumption.  Where have I said the this
project should be done by the US or UK governments?  They could help
by reducing the risk that the energy market will go away before power
sats come on line, but doing it directly would probably be a disaster.
> Few bodies can afford the $350 billion price tag by themselves. Even if the US govt did back it, there would be a moderate chance of the next set of guys voted in either messing around with it or cancelling it.

Even if the government is not involved, there is good reason to get it
to the profit making point in less than 7 years anyway.

>Big international projects like ITER and some ESA projects have shown that multinational projects can succeed, but it takes quite a few years of negotiation for everyone to agree on the share they're paying for, and where the major construction work is done.
> So, without the single mega-project how do we get enough energy? Well, there are a lot of small partial solutions, many of which can be innovated by a single country, and when it is shown to succeed others can copy. Nuclear fission may work - the pebble-bed designs of South Africa may offer a way to burn the world's plutonium stockpile while producing small-scale needs, and didn't someone mention on this list a Japanese company's design for a reactor suitable for a community as small as 2000 people?

Reactors are the second best choice.  And I don't consider plutonium
made in reactors all that much of a problem, i.e., it's not easy to
make into bombs as the North Koreans showed.  But any source of
neutrons and depleted uranium can be used to make nearly pure Pu 239,
and that stuff *is* a hazard.

> Market interference by governments could help - eg a requirement for utilities to buy a certain percentage of their energy from certain sources, this has worked for German solar power. Politicians would love this because it's not a direct tax that people would notice, it would just gently shove up people's utility bills (which get increased every year by the power companies anyway, regardless of general inflation rates) in a way the voters may just shrug their shoulders about. It provides an incentive to improve power generation technology through private sector investment.

This is Charles Miller's proposal to fund power sats.  As long as
there is a demand for power at all, a proposal to sell the first 1% of
power sat output at a dollar a kWh provides a $320 billion pot of
money for some organization that builds them

> Increasing the energy efficiency of infrastructure can help, and given the current rhetoric for spending our way out of recession by investing in infrastructure I can see this being sold politically - investing in US railways to ship US agricultural produce to world markets while using less oil will help keep the world fed while spending money now on employing workers.

I don't think you understand the scope of the problem.  In a low
energy situation it is not obvious the US can feed it's own population
much less export food.

> Governments making a token gesture to public appeals to raise foreign aid could use their extra funding to invest in agricultural improvements in poor countries which minimise fossil fuel use.
> I could keep going on, and mention funding OTEC for Hawaii and then exporting it around the globe, new transport alternatives, all the different solar/hydro/geothermal schemes, all the biotech schemes, and the rest, but there are lot of things that can ameliorate the problem. None of them will solve the problem single-handedly. Most won't even solve the problem even in combination with one other technology. However, given the combination of technologies and social policies and wise investment, there are many routes to success.

I have put numbers on a vast power sat project.  Qualified people have
put numbers on various other sources and come up short.  You state
(more like faith) that there is a way to do it.  I think it falls on
you to show how David Mackay's work is incomplete.

The most likely route without some energy source as vast as SBSP is
famine and war to reduce the world wide population to 1-2 billion. At
that point the remaining population can live on renewable energy.

Of course, at some point the singularity comes along and all bets are
off--or at least it isn't our problem any more than opening cat food
cans is the cat's problem.


> Don't get me wrong, I'd love for solar powersats to be a reality - I have a great love for schemes involving space, and deeply desire truly low-cost launches to orbit. The power satellite industry would form a colossal market that would force the price of space access down dramatically, and in doing so revolutionise our civilisation. I just wish there was a way of selling this that didn't seem too far beyond what projects we see today.
> Tom
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