An Array of Space Solar Power Satellites from O’Neill The High Frontier.
Mike over at Vox Political has posted a number of articles about the threat fracking poses to our homes, our communities and our environment. The Greens and community groups are very concerned about environmental damage done by such shale oil extraction. In America, the dangers posed by fracking has been highlighted by the documentary, Gasland, which shows areas where the water table has been so heavily contaminated by the gases pumped in to free the oil, that there’s footage of people setting the drinking water from their taps alight. I’ve seen other claims from the right that dispute the authenticity of that footage, at least as it applies to fracked chemicals. But there is much other evidence that fracking is unsafe and poisonous. Much like the Tories and the Republicans, who are its biggest supporters.
In the West Country near where I live, the residents of Keynsham have been concerned about fracking on their doorstep. And this week Mike reblogged a report that the Tories had passed legislation permitting fracking under the National Parks, the most beautiful areas of our Sceptred Isle. One of the arguments the Repugs have trotted out in America to justify and promote fracking is that this will somehow make America independent of Middle Eastern oil. Good, patriotic Americans need never have to worry about their dollars getting into the hands of oppressive Middle Eastern regimes or Islamist terrorist groups.
In fact, there is already a scientific alternative to oil, that deserves serious consideration because of it potential to alleviate pollution and the industrial pressure on Earth’s fragile ecosystem: Space Solar Power. Gerard K. O’Neill, one of the major pioneers and advocates of space colonisation, was strongly in favour of developing power stations out in space that would turn the Sun’s rays into energy that could be safely beamed back to Earth. Such energy could then be used to power vehicles, homes and industry without the harmful environmental impact of fossil fuels. Margo R. Deckard, a member of the Space Frontier Foundation, also described its immense ecological potential in her paper ‘A Technology for A Better Future: Space Solar Power An Unlimited Energy Source’ in the third edition of O’Neill’s book The High Frontier: Human Colonies in Space (Ontario: Space Studies Institute/Apogee Book 200). She wrote
A fundamental challenge in the next century is how to meet the world’s growing energy needs from an environmental perspective. We must meet this challenge to provide the opportunity for prosperity to all humans. Fortunately, the Sun supplies the Earth with an abundance of clean and natural energy. Space Solar Power or SSP, is a means of collecting that energy and beaming it down to the Earth wherever it is needed. SSP may be the key to meeting this challenge. SSP could be an environmentally friendly, economical energy producing technology that simultaneously promotes the human realization that the Earth is an open system while protecting the Earth’s fragile biosphere.
She is also very much aware of the power of the Green lobby and an increasing ecologically aware public, and the potential of these groups to support the development of such power systems as well as world governments.
The following chapter, ‘Space Solar Power stations for the 21st Century’ by Peter E. Glaser further outlines the advantages of this technology. He argues
The concept of SSPS has been validated by studies undertaken by the international technical community, and supported by academic institutions, industry and governments. The results of these studies are reported in the substantial literature on the associated technical, economic, ecological and societal issues.
There is a growing consensus that SSPS could deliver sufficient energy in the form of electricity for most conceivable future human needs thereby:
* Increasing the standard of living of all inhabitants on Earth,
* Stabilising population growth,
* Safeguarding the ecology of the Earth,
* Averting potential global instabilities caused by efforts to control increasingly scarcer terrestrial energy resources, and
* Enabling the development of a spacefaring civilisation.
Space Solar Power Stations have been studied for 45 years or more, since the first international meeting was convened in the Netherlands in 1970. Among the nations that have researched such power stations are the US, Ukraine, Russia, the European Union, Japan and China. Glaser also notes that all nations are legally entitled to benefit from such energy resources under the UN Treaty Principles governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and other Celestial Bodies.
And the current crisis in the Middle East should show how solar power, and particularly Space Solar Power, is a reliable and viable alternative to oil. Science Fiction frequently provides a literary Gedankenexperiment for writers to explore the possibilities in science, technology and human society that could emerge in the future. Donald Kingsbury’s short story, The Moon Goddess and the Son, is about a romance between a teenage girl, who has run away from her violent father in the hope of settling on the Moon, and the son of one of Moon colony’s leading engineers, who heartily loathes the place. The story was first published in 1979. Despite their difficulties, all ends well for the star-crossed couple. The son learns to love the Moon, and settles down as one of the engineers there. He marries the girl, who makes her living running the local bar and restaurant. The story takes place against a backdrop of political instability in the Middle East. Funding for the lunar colony looks uncertain, until there is a Communist revolution in Saudi Arabia. At which point, funding suddenly increases as Congress decides they desperately need to find an alternative energy source to oil. Space Solar Power is one of these. Eventually the Communists are defeated and the Saudi royal family restored. The lesson has been learnt, and the colony continues to develop.
Okay, so there are significant differences to today. Fortunately, the Saudis haven’t been toppled, and the threat is Islamism rather than Communism. However, there is still a threat to global oil supplies, and the Islamists are hoping to use their oil wealth to finance their wretched regimes. It would seem the opportunity is right for the development of such space-based power industries.
As for the cost of setting up such stations, it would admittedly be extremely expensive. However, way back at the start of this century I went to a meeting of the British Interplanetary Society in London about the development of space tourism. One of the speakers, a specialist in construction, stated that the costs of developing a space hotel would be equivalent to building a high-rise building on Earth. As for space power, I think he argued that it would be comparable to setting up the national grid today. In other words, they’re very expensive, but no more so than conventional, terrestrial buildings and industries, whose construction is definitely not seen as excessive.
Of course, you don’t have to go into space to get power from the Sun. Hundreds of thousands across the country are probably doing it by having solar panels on the roof of their homes and businesses. And that’s clearly annoyed the Tories, as they’re cutting funding for solar power and other renewables, just as their Republican counterparts across the Pond are doing in the Land of the Free.
The real reasons for it have less to do with the supposed disadvantages of solar power, and far more to do with the massive subsidies the oil companies receive from the US taxpayer due to giving donations to finance the campaigns of their pet politicians. And I strongly suspect that the same applies over here, especially in the Tory party, which has always promoted itself as ‘the party of business’.
Don’t be fooled by Dave Cameron gazing rapt at the TV screen as Tim Peake heads off into space. He wants the elan of backing Britain in space, but he doesn’t want us to develop the High Frontier’s vast potential for clean power, or have to put government money into anything that isn’t strictly terrestrial and won’t benefit his corporate backers. And that means he is definitely not going to put his or anybody else’s money into solar power, whether in space or down here. Why develop clean, renewable energy when his paymasters will make billions trashing the environment?