One of the largest utility companies in the US has decided to look towards space to find more power. Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) in California announced a proposed agreement with startup company Solaren Corporation to provide 200 mega watts of space based solar power (SBSP) starting in 2016. PG&E is now seeking approval from California state regulators for permission to sign this agreement. While PG&E is not making any financial investment at this time, the announcement shows that SBSP is being taken seriously as a viable energy source. PG&E and the two other California utilities are required by the state to source 20 percent of their power from renewable sources by 2010 and 30 percent by 2017. None are producing the required amount so far.
Solaren Corporation is a small, 8-year-old company based in California whose executives have experience working for Boeing and Lockheed Martin. According to PG&E’s website, Solaren says it plans to generate the power using solar panels in earth orbit, then convert it to radio frequency energy for transmission to a receiving station in California. From there, the energy will be converted to electricity and fed into PG&E’s power grid
The proposed agreement is for the delivery of 200MW starting in 2016 for 15 years.
Earlier this year Universe Today interviewed Peter Sage from Space Energy, another SBSP company. Sage said in a statement released today that this announcement is a
“huge step forward for both Solaren and Space Energy as it highlights to the investment community that utility firms are willing to recognize Space-Based Solar Power as a credible and viable source of energy.” Sage added that while the 200 mega watts Solaren is planning to provide represents only 20% of the planned capacity of one of Space Energy’s satellites, it successfully validates the overall business case for SBSP within the larger energy industry.
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The U.S. Department of Energy and NASA began seriously studying the concept of solar power satellites in the 1970s, again in the 1990’s and in 2007, a major study by the Defense Department’s National Security Space Office gave the concept another boost, concluding that “there is enormous potential for energy security, economic development, improved environmental stewardship … and overall national security for those nations who construct and possess a SBSP capability.”
It seems like a win-win situation for PG&E. They told their customers, “If Solaren succeeds, PG&E’s customers have a great opportunity to benefit from affordable clean energy. There is no risk to PG&E customers; PG&E has contracted only to pay for power that Solaren delivers.”
PG&E has 5.1 million electric customer accounts and 4.2 million natural-gas customer accounts in Northern and Central California.
Sources: Space Energy press release, PG&E website