Solar-Space-Power Possibilities


Reader Paul offers a corrective to the solar-power-from-space discussion:

While I share the widespread skepticism regarding PG&E’s plans to purchase electricity generated by a Solar Power Satellite System (SPSS), the issues raised by your correspondent James were resolved over 30 years ago, back when I last worked on a NASA SPS design study at Grumman (Peter Glaser of A.D. Little, who originated the concept, was a consultant).

While it is true that most SPSS designs rely on a vehicle in GEO, it is neither necessary nor desirable to assemble the satellite there. The concepts that I’ve seen assume that the PowerSat is assembled in Low Earth Orbit (LEO) and then transferred to GEO using on-board electric propulsion, which provides relatively low thrust with incredibly high efficiency, and can be powered by a portion of the PowerSat’s output.

James’ concern regarding the effect of the beam on other satellites (or aircraft) is also misplaced.  Power would be transmitted to Earth using a low density microwave beam using a frequency that does not interact with atmospheric water vapor (the opposite of the microwave-oven effect). The flux imposed on LEO spacecraft transiting the beam is trivial compared to other space environment concerns. At the receiving end, the beam is converted to electrical power using a rectifying antenna (rectenna) a mile or more in diameter. The power beam can only be transmitted when the SPS is locked on to a phase signal transmitted form the ground site — if the SPS loses lock, the beam can not be formed (so there is no chance of a wandering beam frying random cities).

The study I worked on envisioned using the surface below the rectenna for farming or light industry, since energy levels below the rectenna would be quite low — NASA and DoE have actually performed a number of experiments verifying the feasibility of this type of power transmission.

All that being said, launch costs remain the achilles heel of any SPS concept. The mass involved in a 5 GWe satellite is not outrageous when considered on an industrial scale (comparable to a supertanker) but none of the designs I’ve seen could produce power at competitive rates without a massive reduction in cost to LEO.

Solaren claims that they’ve come up with a radically new approach that obviates the launch cost issue. If they have, I think we’d all cheer them on, but it’s not clear that engineering and economic realties have left them a loophole.

Discover This


Hmm. This might sound familiar. A Heritage economist writes in an e-mail:

In an article on the environmental impact of alternative energy, the CEO of [windmill company] Vestas displays amazing ignorance about CO2. He apparently thinks the harm from CO2 emissions is toxicity. You would think the top person at one of the world’s largest manufacturers of wind turbines would have the story straight on why humanity desperately needs his product. Ironically, he is adamant about getting “the facts on the table”:

Ditlev Engel, president and chief executive of the Danish wind-energy company Vestas, said anecdotal evidence about birds being caught in turbine blades and other environmental horror stories do not usually hold up under scrutiny.


“Do people think it’s better all those birds are breathing CO2? I’m not a scientist, but I doubt it,” said Engel, whose company is expanding its U.S. manufacturing and distribution operations. “Let’s get the facts on the table and not the feelings. The fact is, these are not issues.”

Yes. In addition to being pretty humorous, that does seem to represent passion supplanting edification, which is something we see quite a bit from the global-warming industry, including today.

One wag has noted in an e-mailed reply that possibly Engel meant “Do people think it’s better all those birds are exhaling CO2? This would explain his machinery’s cavalier approach to shredding them into Chicken McNuggets.”


At minimum we should expect more sneering from Discover’s blog any moment. Right?


Watts Up with the Sun?


Not much. It’s been more than three weeks since Helios last had a blemish.

Watts Up With That? has some interesting analysis from reader Paul Stanko of the NOAA:

Paul writes:

My running mean of the International Sunspot Number for 2009 just dipped below 1.00.  For anything comparable you now need to go back before 1913 (which scored a 1.43) which could mean we’re now competing directly with the Dalton Minimum.

Just in case you’d like another tidbit, here is something that puts our 20 to 30 day spotless runs in perspective… the mother of all spotless runs (in the heart of the Maunder Minimum, of course!) was from October 15, 1661 to August 2, 1671.  It totaled 3579 consecutive spotless days, all of which had obs.

Errant counting of sunspecks from Catainia aside, it appears that we haven’t seen anything like this in modern history.

We live in interesting times.

I’d recommend calling it the Gore Minimum.

Put a Sock in It


So everyone’s favorite mass-emailer, Dr. Michael Schlesinger, sends along this whine with apparent approval from a resident genius at Discover magazine who (while accurately taking John Boehner to task for mistaking that global-warming alarmists allege carbon dioxide is a carcinogen), steps in it in his rush to sneer at the ignorance of others:

“Cows producing carbon dioxide when they “do what they do”? You can’t make this stuff up — it can only emerge from a state of deep, deep confusion.”

Of course, Boehner doesn’t need to make that one up, though confusion does apparently reign here. As is so often the case with global-warming alarmists, they know what they know regardless of what observations or data say.

Not to leave self-imposed humiliation at a minimum, our braintrust goes on:

“Boehner’s flubs — confusing carbon dioxide with carcinogens and with methane — make you wonder whether the guy even knows what global warming is. Can somebody get him a science adviser? Any graduate student will do — in any field, honestly.”

Yes. Honestly. Or, just get this fellow Wikipedia if Discover doesn’t possess sufficient resources.

Admittedly, it is bad form to ascribe false views to one’s political opponents. So it is surprising that our heroes have not expressed similar outrage over President Obama’s persistent use of straw men — “some say we should do nothing,” etc., etc. But notice how Boehner’s dismissal of the (nonexistent) charge that CO2 is also a carcinogen is morphed into him being the one making the claim? By the same reasoning, it appears safe to conclude that Obama was the one saying we should do nothing. Got it.

Here we see how confused one can get when placing one’s own dizzying intellect on such a lofty pedestal.

Re: Solar Energy From Space


Planet Gore reader James writes in to comment on this post:

Getting solar energy generated in space back to Earth requires:

1. The panels will need to be in geosynchronous orbit, which is way out of reach of any heavy lift vehicle currently on the drawing board. There is no way to get what would have to be a very large solar station up there. So, add the cost of developing the heavy lift and geosynchronous capable rocket to the bill.

2. Say they get their station in orbit. Now it has to send what will have to be a very powerful beam back to an earth station. That beam of energy will be passing through a swarm of low earth orbit satellites, likely damaging any that pass through the beam, including the ISS. They could shut down the beam every time a satellite will intersect the beam but that might lead to power interruptions and we all know how much the customers like that.

I’m going to say that PG&E will be investing in a very expensive and noncompetative form of electrical generation, if they do this. It would be cheaper to just build big earth based solar farms. They need to drop this idea like a hot potato.

It looks as if PG&E has minimized their risk here — I don’t think the effort will cost them, or their customers, anything extra, per the original article:

Pacific Gas and Electric Company, which serves San Francisco and northern California, has agreed to buy electricity from a startup company claiming to have found a way to unlock the potential power supply in space.

For PG&E, it doesn’t matter if the electricity they sell is from the new space array or from the monkey riding the generator-bike on Gilligan’s Island, the only thing that matters is the cost to PG&E. If they pay extra for space electricity, then that’s a different story and the customers will surely go nuts.

My guess is that this is a P.R. move and nothing more.


Not Completely Misinformed


Drew Thornley in IBD, on his Energy & the Evironment: Myths & Facts report.

The results from Zogby indicate that Americans are misinformed on matters that press on energy and environmental policy — for example, too many think that U.S. forests are shrinking; that renewables are ready to replace fossil fuels in our energy supply; and that a move toward renewables away from fossil fuels will increase employment levels (now wherever would they get that idea?).

Equally interesting are the handful of issues where those polled get it right:

On a few topics, respondents were better informed.

Almost 49% of respondents think reducing carbon emissions will not be simple or cheap — a belief supported by numerous analyses that project that strict carbon-cutting regimes will lead to falling GDP, reduced employment and higher energy prices across the board. 

Additionally, half of those surveyed feel nuclear waste can be stored safely. That’s in the wake of the Obama administration’s recent decision to halt plans for a permanent nuclear-waste repository at Yucca Mountain in Nevada — after years of planning and billions of dollars invested and with no specific alternative put forth.

Finally, perhaps aware of the infrequency of offshore oil spills, 64% of respondents favor expanded offshore drilling.

Rising to the Occasion


Chris Horner in the Washington Times:

The Washington Times’ front-page story “Rising sea levels in Pacific create wave of migrants” (Page 1, Sunday) outrageously peddles a talking point circulated by activists such as former Vice President Al Gore. The article’s claim that human-induced climate change and sea-level rise spawned a migration of refugees from South Pacific island nations was found unsupportable by the only court to examine its merits (Dimmock v. Secretary of State (UK) for Education and Skills, UK High Court, Oct. 10, 2007).

This claim is a rehash of assertions made in Mr. Gore’s movie, “An Inconvenient Truth.” In its Dimmock ruling, the High Court stated: “In scene 20, Mr. Gore states ‘that’s why the citizens of these Pacific nations have all had to evacuate to New Zealand.’ There is no evidence of any such evacuation having yet happened.” Even the defendant UK government admitted, “It is not clear that there is any evidence of evacuations in the Pacific due to human-induced climate change.” Refugees seeking generous New Zealand and Canadian welfare regimes do exist, but they are not driven by sea-level rise.

This ruling came in late 2007. The rate of sea-level rise — which began after a period known as the Little Ice Age – proceeded steadily from about 1850 until then, without accelerating. Since then, satellite data have affirmed that the rate peaked in 2005 and that levels even have dipped slightly. Sea levels around the Maldives have dropped appreciably in recent decades. Nowhere did The Times acknowledge doubt, let alone these facts.

In short, this reportage perpetuated unsupportable claims made, as the UK High Court put it, “in the context of alarmism and exaggeration in support of [Mr. Gore's] political thesis.” A retraction is warranted.

Counsel and senior fellow
Competitive Enterprise Institute

Earth Day: OUT


Planetary Community Day: IN


(CNN) — Earth Day may fall later this week, but as far as former NASA astronaut Edgar Mitchell and other UFO enthusiasts are concerned, the real story is happening elsewhere.

Mitchell, who was part of the 1971 Apollo 14 moon mission, asserted Monday that extraterrestrial life exists, and that the truth is being concealed by the U.S. and other governments.

He delivered his remarks during an appearance at the National Press Club following the conclusion of the fifth annual X-Conference, a meeting of UFO activists and researchers studying the possibility of alien life forms.

Mankind has long wondered if we’re “alone in the universe. [But] only in our period do we really have evidence. No, we’re not alone,” Mitchell said.

“Our destiny, in my opinion, and we might as well get started with it, is [to] become a part of the planetary community. … We should be ready to reach out beyond our planet and beyond our solar system to find out what is really going on out there.”

You think we waterboarded the Roswell aliens when we captured them?

Arnold Schwarzenegger, Auto Engineer


Detroit, Mich. – The Society of Automotive Engineers is in town for their annual convention and this year’s schedule kicked off Monday morning with Green governors Jennifer Granholm and Arnold Schwarzenegger talking about the future of the auto industry. Welcoming two witch doctors to address an AMA convention would be no less absurd, but in an age when the Green Church dictates engineering goals, I suppose the conference organizers thought it relevant to invite two of its more prominent preachers.

Schwarzenegger tried to soften the crowd with his usual collection of movie-inspired one-liners“The car industry is saying, ‘I’ll be back.’ ”) but there was no disguising his heavy government hand. Detroit automakers, he said, should continue to get federal dollars “if you do it the right way.”

The “right way,” of course, is to make the cars he wants.

He endorsed a federal “cash for clunkers” program to get gas-guzzlers off the road and spur new auto sales, but — realizing that his name is synonymous with GM’s Hummer — was quick to add that the problem is not big vehicles, but what technology powers them.

“There is nothing wrong with the Hummer. The Hummer is a great vehicle. We should change the technology within those vehicles,” said Schwarzenegger who famously has had one of his Hummers converted to hydrogen.

The cost of that conversion? $100,000. The California company that performed the work estimates that, with volume, the cost could be brought down to $20,000 per vehicle. Sound expensive? Just put it on the government credit card.

Garbage In, Gospel Out


An editorial from the Las Vegas Journal-Review, entitled “Garbage In, Garbage Out“:

The Environmental Protection Agency plans to propose regulating greenhouse gas emissions on the grounds that these “pollutants” pose a danger to the public’s health and welfare, The Washington Post reported Friday.

Business groups including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce have warned that if the federal government regulates carbon dioxide under the Clean Air Act it will end up imposing an enormous regulatory burden.

“The proposal, once finalized, will give EPA far more responsibility than addressing climate change,” warns Roger Martella, who served as EPA’s general counsel under President George W. Bush and is now a partner at the firm Sidley Austin in Washington. “It effectively will assign EPA broad authority over the use and control of energy, in turn authorizing it to regulate virtually every sector of the economy.”

This would all be quite silly if it weren’t going to be so expensive — a vast and totally unnecessary tax load piled onto an already suffering and fragile economy.

The greenhouse effect is, in fact, beneficial to all life on Earth. Without it, the planet would freeze at night. We should be wary of tampering with it, even if we could, which (fortunately) we can’t.

If there is currently some modest global warming going on (there’s considerable evidence the recent minor warming phase has slowed), it’s beneficial in that it allows mankind of grow more food. It’s certainly of less concern than global cooling, which will eventually lead to another Ice Age.

The main greenhouse gas is water vapor, which comes mainly from natural sources. Carbon dioxide has only one quarter the thermal absorption of water vapor; there’s only about 3 percent as much carbon dioxide in the atmosphere as there is water vapor; and carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is also overwhelmingly from natural sources.

In short, eliminating man-made carbon dioxide entirely — which can’t be done, in part because the EPA has no authority over fast-industrializing India and China — would impact any ongoing “climate change” by less than 1 percent.

So where’s the “compelling and overwhelming” evidence that carbon dioxide emissions from American cars and power plants “pose a danger to the public’s health and welfare”? Who has died as a result of “global warming”?

It’s all derived from science-fiction computer models — designed by the people who quite presciently gave us the term “garbage in, garbage out.”

Solar Energy From Space


A few Planet Gore readers have sent along this story — which I’m sure I have seen in a James Bond movie:

A leading American power company is hoping to turn science fiction into reality by supporting a project to set up solar panels in outer space and beam the electricity generated back to Earth.

Pacific Gas and Electric Company, which serves San Francisco and northern California, has agreed to buy electricity from a startup company claiming to have found a way to unlock the potential power supply in space.

The firm, Solaren Corp, says it will launch solar panels into orbit and then convert the power generated into radio-frequency transmissions, which will be beamed back down into a depot in Fresno, California. The energy would then be converted into electricity and fed into the regular power grid, PG&E said.

Although spacecraft and satellites routinely use solar panels, the project marks the first serious attempt to take advantage of the powerful and near-constant supply of sunshine in space.

Nasa and the Pentagon have been studying the idea of orbiting solar farms since the 1960s, and a number of private researchers have been looking at ways to tap into space-based solar energy.

But Solaren Corp, founded by a former spacecraft engineer, says it has developed a technology that would make it commercially viable within the next seven years to transmit electricity generated in space to a terrestrial power grid.

And now the cost . . .

Spirnak will face a difficult task raising funds for his project though, especially in this time of global economic recession. He said he was seeking in the low billions of dollars in investment – much higher than the usual $100m (£67m) to $200m costs for projects in renewable energy.


Off Track


Over on the homepage, David Freddoso on Obama’s high-speed-rail plan

Hurricane Forecasting 2009


A downgrade:

MIAMI, April 20 (Reuters) — The 2009 Atlantic hurricane season will produce 11 tropical storms, of which six will become hurricanes, WSI Corp predicted Monday.

The Andover, Massachusetts, private forecaster reduced its forecast from the one it issued in December, when it said the six-month season starting on June 1 would see 13 tropical storms, including seven hurricanes.

The lower forecast was due to cooler water temperatures in the tropical Atlantic Ocean and a fading La Nina cool-water event in the eastern Pacific, the forecaster said.

WSI predicted that two of the six hurricanes would be “major” storms of Category 3 or higher on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale of hurricane intensity. Such storms are the most destructive type, with sustained winds winds of greater than 110 miles per hour (177 km per hour).

Another prominent storm forecaster, Colorado State University, also reduced its forecast recently.



You can find the second edition of Energy & the Environment: Myths & Facts here.

More Cooking


Andrew Revkin of the New York Times has followed up on this article (about how poor people are killing the planet by cooking their food using wood) with a blog post on alternative, Earth friendly cooking methods. Check out the YouTube video on the solar-powered stove — called, predictably, the Kyoto Box — that will supposedly save the planet: 

What a joke. In the first 30 seconds of the video, the announcer talks about how 1.6 million women and children die each year from smoke related cooking injuries, but then the announcer goes on to say that 10 million children die each year of polluted water. Somehow this magic tin-foil covered box will end this?

What these people need is electricity that that can operate things like ovens and refrigerators and sewage treatment plants, not this nonsense that takes ten hours to boil water.

More Antarctic Ice


The Australian has a good follow-up today on the Antarctic ice cap, but this section gave me a slight chuckle:

The Antarctic also has an ozone hole above it, which could be acting as a pressure valve, allowing heat to escape the icecap. “It could be that when the ozone hole is fixed, there will be more warming,” Allison says.

Does this mean we can use chlorofluorocarbons again? Create ozone holes to save the planet!

We’re Saved!


Tom Nelson and the art of juxtaposition.

Heroic Energy Department hopes to replace one in every 8,000 school buses with a plug-in hybrid

Creating a Plug-In Hybrid School Bus –
Energy Secretary Stephen Chu (an honoree for a 2009 Heart of Green Award from The Daily Green) focused on how this initiative will reduce global warming pollution by slashing the amount of oil needed to ferry children to and from school. (“By investing in the vehicles of the future,” he said, “we will create new jobs while reducing our dependence on foreign oil and improving our environment.”) But deploying these buses will also clean the air breathed by millions of school children every day.

There will only be 60 buses manufactured under the plan envisioned by the Department of Energy — but over time, this technology should show the way forward, so that old polluting diesel buses become a thing of the past.

National School Bus Fuel Data
ASBC estimates the number of school buses in the U.S. to be 480,000

‘I’m with the Band’


Drew Thornley is in D.C. today for the release of the second edition of Energy & the Environment: Myths & Facts, a publication he authored for the Manhattan Institute’s Center for Energy Policy and the Environment. (And yes, the Americans polled still think we get most of our oil from Saudi Arabia; in fact, Canada and Mexico top the list.) We’ll have more on the Energy Myths report later, after its embargo is lifted.

If you’re in the capital and want to drop by for the proceedings, the event begins at noon in room 406 of the Dirksen Senate Office Building. I’m sure Drew and MI would love to have you. Needless to say (with Drew involved), they are serving BBQ.

Earth Day Blues


Everywhere there are signs of green fatigue. The New Yorker’s Elizabeth Kolbert, usually a first-rank alarmist, notes with understatement that “Earth Day has lost its edge and, with that, the sense that a different world is possible”:

Still, there are plenty of reasons to wonder whether serious steps to reduce carbon emissions will be taken this year or, indeed, ever. Regulating CO2 using existing laws will be a laborious, and potentially litigious, exercise. Meanwhile, the Administration has been strangely passive about trying to shape climate legislation — one reason that the Waxman bill is likely to be further watered down. Then, there’s the question of whether even an inadequate bill has the votes to pass.

If someone named Bush were still in the White House, the “strange passivity” at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue would be cause for 100 decibel condemnation. Maybe they don’t want to ponder that perhaps The One isn’t into the issue.

Getting Over Carbon?


The indispensable Peter Huber, in City Journal’s new Spring issue.

Like medieval priests, today’s carbon brokers will sell you an indulgence that forgives your carbon sins. It will run you about $500 for 5 tons of forgiveness — about how much the typical American needs every year. Or about $2,000 a year for a typical four-person household. Your broker will spend the money on such things as reducing methane emissions from hog farms in Brazil.

But if you really want to make a difference, you must send a check large enough to forgive the carbon emitted by four poor Brazilian households, too — because they’re not going to do it themselves. To cover all five households, then, send $4,000. And you probably forgot to send in a check last year, and you might forget again in the future, so you’d best make it an even $40,000, to take care of a decade right now. If you decline to write your own check while insisting that to save the world we must ditch the carbon, you are just burdening your already sooty soul with another ton of self-righteous hypocrisy. And you can’t possibly afford what it will cost to forgive that.

If making carbon this personal seems rude, then think globally instead. During the presidential race, Barack Obama was heard to remark that he would bankrupt the coal industry. No one can doubt Washington’s power to bankrupt almost anything — in the United States. But China is adding 100 gigawatts of coal-fired electrical capacity a year. That’s another whole United States’ worth of coal consumption added every three years, with no stopping point in sight. Much of the rest of the developing world is on a similar path.

Cut to the chase. We rich people can’t stop the world’s 5 billion poor people from burning the couple of trillion tons of cheap carbon that they have within easy reach. We can’t even make any durable dent in global emissions — because emissions from the developing world are growing too fast, because the other 80 percent of humanity desperately needs cheap energy, and because we and they are now part of the same global economy. What we can do, if we’re foolish enough, is let carbon worries send our jobs and industries to their shores, making them grow even faster, and their carbon emissions faster still.


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