The California Public Utilities Commission approved yesterday Pacific Gas & Electric’s plan to purchase electricity from an orbiting solar panel plant in outer space, provided that it is successfully deployed. The San Francisco utility announced in April its space-ward intentions, and now that it has received the official green light from state regulators, it has contracted to buy 1,700 gigawatt-hours per year for 15 years from Solaren Corporation (website still presumably under construction), a startup from Los Angeles that plans to place satellites equipped with an array of solar panels into orbit, where they would soak up the sun’s rays—undiluted by atmospheric debris and uninterrupted by bad weather or nightfall—to fuel energy users down on Earth. Or so the hope is, anyway.
In what may be one of its most ambitious solar projects to date, Japan again affirms its reputation for technological savvy: the country’s space agency plans to send arrays of photovoltaic dishes right outside of earth’s atmosphere, where it will collect solar energy and beam it back down using laser beams or microwaves. The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) plans to have the Space Solar Power System (SSPS) up and running in geostationary orbit by 2030, and the government has already selected the companies and researchers to realize this goal. (Power players include Mitsubishi Electric, Fujitsu and Sharp.)