26 October 2008

US Chamber Endorses Space Solar

The appropriate policy question is: "Should the U.S. Government invest in SBSP research, as part of a diversified portfolio of renewable energy programs, including consideration of new approaches that may not have been previously studied?" Our answer to that question is yes. We must explore all potentially significant sources of sustainable energy that might contribute, even if only to a limited extent in the near term, to assurance of security and prosperity. Facing this challenge represents a responsibility not only to our own nation but also to the global community in which we live.
SBSP should be addressed through an incremental roadmap approach, involving both Government and private sector investment. This roadmap should be constructed to address at the outset key questions about SBSP, including technical viability and cost-effectiveness. The roadmap should consist of a series of milestones, each built on the availability of information generated by prior research. If research results are positive, each milestone should lead to increased government and private sector effort and investment. If justified by research findings, a move from research to demonstration projects should be initiated. Beyond this, milestones should be designed to maximize opportunities for multiple applications of research results, so that improvements in existing technologies and development of new ones could have near-term applications in addition to SBSP (e.g., communications satellite power supplies, terrestrial solar power generation).
The Space Enterprise Council of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce supports the National Security Space Office recommendation of a research program addressing space-based solar power, to explore whether or not this potential energy source could enhance commerce and security. The importance of alternative energy research is becoming increasingly clear, given the urgency of the national and global need for energy that is inexhaustible, affordable, and environmentally clean. Assuring access to energy is particularly relevant to U.S. national security, not only for supply of reliable power to deployed forces but also for avoiding international conflicts that might arise because of energy shortages.

SBSP is unusual among renewable energy options because it might satisfy all four of the following criteria critical to investment decisions: environmental cleanliness, sustainability of supply, flexibility of location, and capacity to generate continuous rather than intermittent power. The cost of SBSP-generated electricity would initially be greater than that provided by fossil fuel or nuclear power but could be comparable to other alternative energy sources, particularly for baseload power. In addition, SBSP might offer an attractive approach, not only for satisfying today's needs but also for meeting tomorrow’s much greater requirements. We cannot accurately predict environmental and other consequences of harvesting energy from natural Earthbound sources (e.g., wind, ocean current, geothermal, biofuels), when these methods are scaled up to considerably higher levels. By providing an additional source of renewable energy, SBSP might help avoid potentially negative consequences if limits to the cost-effective expansion of other renewable sources become evident. Beyond enhancement of energy production per se, SBSP might help create new economic opportunities through resultant technology advances in space launch, space utilization, and technological spin-offs applicable to a host of materials and processes. For example, SBSP research might lead to improvements in the efficiency of solar cells that power communications satellites, as well as power management systems for terrestrial solar power systems. Also, to the extent that SBSP is integrated into terrestrial solar power production, development of SBSP ground infrastructure might generate revenue even before deployment of systems in space. In this and related applications, SBSP could emerge as an enhancement for, rather than a competitor with, terrestrial solar power generation.

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