Friday, 30 April 2010

Energy Needs

I'm going to steal a page from "Mad Engineering" today, and try to think creatively about one of the big problems that's facing Rural AK: Power. Renewables are good, but you still need diesel power for covering all the spots where there's no wind blowing, or sun shining (Yes, Solar Power works in AK). You can't effectively tie villages together in a grid so that wind energy from one village can help a village having a calm day - the cost of running power lines between villages is very high! And the cost of running powerline from the railbelt grid is even bigger.

What could be a steady power-producer for the villages? Orbital Solar. It sounds crazy, but the idea isn't that futuristic - you put a solar array in space where solar power is much more efficient (because we lose a lot of energy to the atmosphere). It's then beamed down to earth as radio or microwaves, where it's collected by antennas. You can position the satellite so it's always in the sun, even at night. Each village would have a microwave dish to collect energy from the power station being beamed to it.

Surely something like this is expensive, but there's a chance you could get a partner to help you develop this - the Military is very interested in the idea because it will allow them to have electrical anywhere in the world, and shipping diesel to Afghanistan might be the only place more expensive than the bush! Collaborating with the Air Force to test-bed this technology would be a great way to bring it to the bush.

So: How crazy does this sound? :)


kirsten said...

craziness! but if the military is interested, then it's got a better than nothing chance of happening. They're the only ones with money, right?

themadengineer said...

Sounds like simcity's "orbital power" stations. They bring up the idea of there being big problems if the beam ever misses its target, but it thankfully avoids many of the problems of the less technological sources of power, like pollution.
The infrastructure would be expensive, but yes, it'd provide inexpensive green power for a considerable period of time, before the solar cells on the satellite deteriorated (both from ordinary wear and tear and from micrometeorites) and needed to be changed.
And yes, solar power could work in southern Alaska. The polar region is the one that has the six months of darkness problem.

TwoYaks said...

@mad engineering: Even up here, where in the winter we get a mere 3 hours of day, solar works pretty well. I've got a friend off the grid, and aside from brief supplementation with diesel, he's fine most of the winter. But he's also very frugal with his power...