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.