SF Utility buys video game power production

On April 14, 2009, in General, by Neil Stevens

The San Francisco-area utility company PG&E wants to buy fictional energy from a company that up until now builds air conditioning and solar power for individual homes and buildings. Specifically, the SolarEn LLC, despite its ugly webpage and track record of exclusively small-scale deployments of solar power, claims it’s going to send satellites into space to gather energy, and then beam that energy SimCity-style to stations on the ground.

PG&E is not only endorsing this idea, but it’s signing a contract with SolarEn to promise to buy this energy. Despite the basic problems the idea has, they’re giving this company credibility and want the government to do the same!

While it’s true that solar power works better outside the atmosphere than in, the problems with beaming the energy back to earth are the same ones that make solar power on the ground less efficient! SolarEn claims they will use radio waves instead of the SimCity original microwaves. This is more realistic, in that radio waves won’t have the same safety and water vapor issues that microwaves would have, but at the same time radio waves inherently transmit less energy, due to their having of a much lower frequency/longer wavelength than microwaves.

But even so, any ham radio operator will tell you that even radio waves can be affected a great deal by the atmosphere. And guess what? The higher the frequency (and therefore energy capacity) you choose, the greater the problem is, as traditionally ionospheric refraction of radio waves happened best with shortwave radio.

Yes yes, it’s neat that SolarEn can tell us all about what kinds of satellite launch facilities they could use for this, as well as what kind of solar panel they’d use, and how much more effective solar panels are outside than in the atmosphere.

But until you have a clearly defined way to get the energy to Earth, you’re just selling a scam. I’m reminded of T. Boone Pickens when he sold his wind power plan. He mentioned that transmission of the power from the wind hot spots to people’s homes was a detail that had to be overcome, but he gave no indications that he had any way of overcoming that.

Until I see otherwise from SolarEn, I think it’s nothing but a scam here. They’re deceiving investors into thinking they have more than they actually do, with the hope that if they get enough money they’ll figure out how to actually do it. The California PUC should have no part of that, and so probably should reject this plan as long as there’s no free market in power in this state.


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