Can Solar Power Bust Hurricanes?


Renewable energy developer Solaren is said to be signing a deal with California utility company Pacific Gas and Electric to beam solar energy directly to Earth, not just for “green” energy, but to control hurricanes.

Last week, PG&E announced it was attempting to get state approval for plans to buy power over a 15-year period from Solaren, by means of a giant solar array in space beaming the energy down to Earth.

It may sound crazy, but Solaren’s chief executive officer, Gary Spirnak, has said that “While a system of this scale and exact configuration has not been built, the underlying technology is very mature and is based on communications satellite technology.” A similar inquiry by the Pentagon agreed.

The deal itself would allow Solaren to provide 200 megawatts of power by 2016, but that’s just small potatoes according to a patent application that was made in 2006.

Spirnak writes that, “The present invention relates to space-based power systems and, more particularly, to altering weather elements, such as hurricanes or forming hurricanes, using energy generated by a space-based power system.”

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has heard all this before though, stating, “There have been numerous techniques that we have considered over the years to modify hurricanes: seeding clouds with dry ice or silver iodide, cooling the ocean with cryogenic material or icebergs, changing the radiational balance in the hurricane environment by absorption of sunlight with carbon black, exploding the hurricane apart with hydrogen bombs, and blowing the storm away from land with giant fans, etc. As carefully reasoned as some of these suggestions are, they all share the same shortcoming: They fail to appreciate the size and power of tropical cyclones.”

That’s not stopping Solaren though, which is planning on launching a 1.5-gigawatt array, (about seven times as large as the PG&E one) that will heat up the upper and middle levels of an infant hurricane, effectively weakening it.

Of course, this does still assume that the company is capable of getting hold of the billions of dollars necessary to actually create the idea, but as Spirank says, “Our thought was just to kind of cover our bases. I don’t know if it will ever be built or not. The only ones who would really do this is the government. No public company could ever handle the liability, but we’d love to build one for them.”

Source: Wired via Slashdot

About the author