Renewable Energy from the Solar Winds of Deep Space

Space, in its vastness, is filled with a multitude of opportunities that we can take a hold of as we develop the necessary technology. Many of those opportunities lies in the power of our own personal star: the Sun. While we already take advantage of the energy the Sun can provide us here on the ground, researchers have been trying to make the most out of the energy we could be collecting in space. To this end, the use of solar wind for the generation of energy is not a new concept, but one that many researchers believe could hold the key to solving most of our energy needs.

Dr. Dirk Schulze-Makuch, a researcher at Washington State University, worked together with a group of scientists to determine the best course of action to take when generating a renewable energy source from solar wind. According to the research, a ten meter solar sail with approximately 300 meters of copper wiring, paired with a receiver, would be capable of generating enough electricity to power 1,000 average homes. Considering the fact that vast farms of these sails could be utilized, they believe the potential for generating electricity is on a scale that we are not capable of even approaching on Earth. The end project, an 8,400 kilometer wide solar sail based on the design of the smaller ten meter sail could generate well over one billion gigawatts of renewable energy at over a constant period of time.

Although the concept is clearly there, the main problem is traced back to our current level of technology. A solar sail is not an unreasonable concept for renewable energy. In fact, just a few months back the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency successfully deployed their solar sail craft, the IKAROS, on a mission to take it past Venus and on towards the sun. However, where the IKAROS only needs to concern itself with generating the power needed to operate the on-board systems, a solar sail designed to power Earth would need a method of transmitting the energy it had gathered back to us. The researchers believe that the best method would be by sending the energy along an infrared laser to receivers on Earth. The main problem with this, however, is that the distance at which the massive solar sail would be deployed would result in a majority of the energy being lost on its trip to our receivers.

Though our level of technology may not be quite there for using solar wind as a primary source of renewable energy, it is a promising method of farming the winds in the future. We need only to wait until we can develop our technological level to the point where the transmission of the energy would not be such a massive waste of the gathered resource. Of course, by the time we are able to easily transmit the energy back to Earth we may have found another method of generating energy. Would it be able to surpass the potentially limitless power of the sun? It seems unlikely, but time will tell.

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