Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Space Based Solar Power Generation

So a momentary heavy-thread erupted over at Prometheus 6's blog. P6 is one of the original, heavily political bloggers and he has developed national recognition and a high-profile platform from which to hold forth. He is heard from time to time on Farai Chidaya's NPR blogger's roundtable. What instigated the discussion was an assertion that P6 posted about - in which it was claimed that the deep structure of Obama's thinking is opaque and mysterious. I instead argued on that thread that Obama is not a mystery, but that his campaign and election production company - headed by David Axelrod and giving every appearance of being a firmly establishmentarian Brookings Institute production - may instead by hobbling Obama's public pronouncements and policy agenda by preventing the Senator from tapping into the powerful, open-source intellectual groundswell that has marshalled in support of his candidacy.

My respected colleague PTCruiser summed up my concern most elegantly;
"Still, a closer look at Obama's online effort reveals many opportunities for work, and few opportunities for what I consider to be intelligent participation. We can sign up to make phone calls, send emails, volunteer in the streets, or become precinct captains. But where's the participatory democracy wiki? Where do we get involved in the conversations that help shape his policy positions? How is he incorporating the massive intelligence of his support network into his philosophy of governance? BarackObama.com is a great example of crowd-sourcing, but it's a far cry from even a fledgling effort at open source democracy."

I have been troubled too by the lack real participation and penetration.
In the course of the discussion, I pointed out some very specific policy agendas that could be driven exclusively by the POTUS and which could have a profound impact on the current perfect storm crisis affecting energy, the armed services, and the finance and banking arenas. Specifically, I referred to the mass and scale of the DoD as a change agent in both energy market practices, and, as the primary employer of research scientists in the U.S. as the potential source of major energy resource innovation. This topic has previously been addressed here at Subrealism with no small measure of disappointment in the direction that the USAF has decided to take. In the interest of fairness, I want to share the other parts of what is possible and doable if the political will and popular support are marshaled in time to make it so.

Full-monty here - excerpt from the paper's conclusion; Several major challenges will need to be overcome to make SBSP a reality, including the creation of low‐cost space access and a supporting infrastructure system on Earth and in space. Several past studies have shown that the opportunity to export energy as the first marketable commodity from space will motivate commercial sector solutions to these challenges. The delivered commodity can be used for a variety of purposes to include base‐load terrestrial electrical power, wide‐area broadcast power, carbon‐neutral synthetic fuels production, or as an in‐space satellite energy utility. Solving these space access and operations challenges for SBSP will in turn also open space for a host of other activities that include space tourism, manufacturing, lunar or asteroid resource utilization, and eventually expansion of human presence and permanent settlement within our solar system.

A repeated review finding is that the commercial sector will need Government to accomplish three major tasks in order to catalyze SBSP development. The first is to retire a major portion of the early technical risks. This can be accomplished via an incremental research and development program that culminates with a space‐borne proof‐of‐concept demonstration in the next decade. The second is to facilitate the policy, regulatory, legal, and organizational instruments that will be necessary to create the partnerships and relationships (commercial‐commercial, government‐commercial, and government‐government) needed for this concept to succeed. The final Government contribution is to become a direct early adopter and to incentivize other early adopters much as is accomplished on a regular basis with other renewable energy systems coming on‐line today.

For the DoD specifically, beamed energy from space in quantities greater than 5 MWe has the potential to be a disruptive game changer on the battlefield. SBSP and its enabling wireless power transmission technology could facilitate extremely flexible “energy on demand” for combat units and installations across an entire theater, while significantly reducing dependence on vulnerable over‐land fuel deliveries. SBSP could also enable entirely new force structures and capabilities such as ultra long‐endurance airborne or terrestrial surveillance or combat systems to include the individual soldier himself. More routinely, SBSP could provide the ability to deliver rapid and sustainable humanitarian energy to a disaster area or to a local population undergoing nation‐building activities. SBSP could also facilitate base “islanding” such that each installation has the ability to operate independent of vulnerable ground‐based energy delivery infrastructures. In addition to helping American and Allied defense establishments remain relevant over the entire 21st Century through more secure supply lines, perhaps the greatest military benefit of SBSP is to lessen the chances of conflict due to energy scarcity by providing access to a strategically security energy supply.

This interim report accomplished a significant review of the overall concept and many components in a very short period of time and no cost. As has been demonstrated repeatedly in the new internet‐interconnected world, this type of horizontal, collaborative approach to problem solving is very effective in rapidly collecting and building knowledge. It has also had the effect of rapidly building (almost exponentially) action networks and informing otherwise disconnected individuals of this concept. It is a model that the DoD may wish to consider for future problem‐solving endeavors.