Space-Based Solar Power Basics, History, and Strategy Space Based Solar Basics Solar Power refers to energy from the sun that humans have harnessed in order to power things on earth. Space Based Solar refers to efforts to use satellites to harness this directly from space instead of on the ground. Space Solar Satellites Why Space Solar? Terrestrial Solar Power (ground-based solar power) is not always sufficient to meet the growing energy needs of planet earth. Space Solar can be used whether or not people on earth can see the sun (even in rainy weather or at night!) and it takes up no land on earth. This makes space solar really important – it avoids all the problems with terrestrial solar. Solar Energy Breakdown U.S. Space Solar The government is currently not investing the money necessary to build space solar energy. The government and investors know it will be a risk to develop space solar, so they are not very willing to pay money because they do not know if they will ever get the money back. That’s too bad because.. Global warming, global change in climate, is happening rapidly. Many scientists believe global warming is due to the accumulation of greenhouse gases in the environment. Some of those gases, such as carbon dioxide (Co2), are produced by humans when they burn fossil fuels such as oil and coal. The Greenhouse Effect Greenhouse gases absorb and emit radiation. Consequences … Some scientists argue that global warming will cause natural disasters such as flooding, hurricanes, tornadoes, and droughts. Natural Disasters Clean Energy Fossil fuels burn to create pollution and greenhouse gases. They are also nonrenewable, which means they are not unlimited (we will eventually run out). Solar power is a renewable energy source, and it does not produce any greenhouse gases. A solution? For this reason, some scientists think space solar power could solve anthropogenic (humancaused) global warming. But wait, there’s more … In the 1960’s and 1970’s, the United States was on the cutting edge of space technology. This was very important for the competitiveness of the U.S.’s technology sector on the global stage. Aerospace Leadership Without a big project like SBSP, the U.S. loses some important components of aerospace leadership: Inventions based on the breakthroughs made while researching. Smart high-tech workers that are going to other countries now. Infrastructure and industry for developing things (also more jobs and technology.) Consequences … Without aerospace leadership, the United States will be unable to sell technology to other countries, influence the things they do with their technology, and stay ahead of them. U.S. leadership of the world is referred to as U.S. hegemony. U.S. Hegemony Some scholars argue that U.S. hegemony is good because, without it, other nations may try to challenge the U.S. and start wars. They also argue that the world is more stable when one single nation controls everything. Bradley A. Thayer, the author in the SPS file, thinks that U.S. hegemony is necessary to prevent wars that would end the planet. Sounds Great! But there’s another side to this story … Is warming really so bad? Is hegemony really so necessary? Does this SPS stuff even work? Global Warming Hoax? The earth does get naturally warmer and cooler over time, leading some scientists to believe that this climate cycle is normal or at the very least not anthropogenic. Every heard of the “Ice Age”? This climate would have felt very warm back then. Feedback Cycles Global warming is thought of by some scientists as a positive feedback; that is, carbon dioxide builds up in the atmosphere and continues to feed at a continuous rate until it speeds up and causes a faster kind of warming, known as runaway warming. This is also referred to as the point where warming goes past the tipping point. Scientists who believe in positive feedback also believe that if we don’t stop warming soon, we will be over the tipping point and there will be nothing we can do. Kind of like this . . . Negative Feedback Other scientists think that warming works in a negative feedback cycle. These scientists believe that the more carbon that enters the atmosphere, the less will eventually stay there and the more the earth will cool to naturally correct the problem. Kind of like this… Negative Feedbacks Think of it like trying to climb a really steep hill. The more you climb, the more you run out of energy. Eventually, if the hill is steep enough, you might just give up and climb back down. In this scenario, you never reach the tipping point. In debate, if you can win that global warming is a negative feedback cycle, you can win that we don’t need to do anything about it. Other Problems Still other scientists say it does not matter what we do because we are already past the tipping point. Others still say that SPS is a bad solution because most of the Co2 comes from developing countries like China and India. These countries are likely to continue using fossil fuels. Hegemony Problems . . . There are also some problems with the idea that hegemony is good or that it can be fixed. Launcher shortages. Lack of talent. Doesn’t solve war. Launcher Shortages The U.S. does not have many launch vehicles, which are the rockets that propel satellites into space. This is especially true because the U.S. just retired all of its space shuttles. Therefore, we rely heavily on other countries like Russia and China to put anything into space. What does this mean? In a way, this means that the U.S. will remain behind other countries for a very long time when it comes to space. This also means that it would be difficult for us to launch solar powered satellites. Lack of Talent Another problem is that the U.S. does not necessarily have enough scientists who can work at NASA. The U.S. is falling behind other countries in science and math, so it will be hard for us to find the people to build and design SPS. Does Not Solve War People like Barbara Conry, a foreign policy analyst at the Cato Institute, a think tank. First, it is difficult for any single country to fix every problem in the world. Second, unlike during World War 2, most major conflicts do not occur between states but within them. And the U.S. can’t deal with that very well … Many of these conflicts are guerilla wars. This means that they do not take place between armies but between different groups of locals. These locals know the land better than foreign militaries and thus are more able to fight there. Large militaries often have difficulty in these situations. SPS May Not Work Although many scientists find SPS to be very exciting technology, others are not sure that SPS will work. It takes a long time to make sure the technology is perfect. Even the technology that exists now has not really been tried on a large scale in space. It is reasonable to assume that SPS may not be ready for 15-30 years. Activity … What do you think about SPS? Is it a good idea? If you think it’s a good idea, why? If you think it’s a bad idea, why? If you had to choose between SPS and other solutions to global warming, would you choose SPS? Do you think hegemony is a good or bad thing? Now Switch! Make at least three arguments that answer the arguments you just made. Quiz These gases trap heat and radiation, causing the earth to get much warmer. Greenhouse Gases Question 2 This greenhouse gas is released when humans burn fossil fuels. Carbon dioxide. Question 3 This is a word that refers to the United States’ ability to be a global leader. Hegemony Question 4 These are the machines that propel objects into space. Launch vehicles. Question 5 Oil is one of these polluting energy sources. Fossil fuels. Question 6 This word refers to something caused by humans. Anthropogenic. Question 7 These sources of energy will never run out. Renewables Question 8 Space solar is better than ________ solar power because it can collect energy 24 hours a day, every day. Terrestrial. Question 9 If global warming passes this, we will never be able to fix it. Tipping point. Question 10 U.S. students are falling behind in this. Science.