Energetic Engineering

By MICHAEL MATZA  |  July 1, 2008

At first blush this sounds Buck Rogerish. That is certainly the first impression that people have,” Glaser admits. “But I can describe every component, I can demonstrate it, it is here in existence, we have laboratory data and a large scientific community that is agreeing that the technical aspects are not the major issue.  There is no question that we can convert solar energy into electricity; there is no question that we can convert electricity into microwaves; no question that we can beam microwaves and that we can convert microwaves back into electricity. And we can do that with the kind of efficiencies we need and with the kind of projected costs that would put this thing in the competitive price range. The technical problems are simply challenges for engineers. In this sense it is quite different from fusion power. We still do not have the scientific facts straight for fusion. Can we actually get fusion power together? We don’t know. If satellite solar power is considered science fiction, what is fusion power considered?”

As he outlines his plan for exploiting solar power, Glaser adopts the position that the problem we face is not “can we do it, it’s should we do it?”

In the energy utopia he envisions, control and ownership of the hardware would be jointly held by a group of nations. “I will share with you my prejudice for how the model will operate,” Glaser says. “I believe it will be owned by government — probably our own — at first, but eventually by several governments. It will be owned by industry and it will also be owned by the public. If you want a model, ComSat Corporation is the domestic model; InterSat Corporation is the international model.”

Glaser is fond of using the communications-satellite model to emphasize the feasibility of satellite solar power. The same sort of international cooperation that brought the Montreal Olympics into living rooms in Europe could be used to coordinate worldwide energy distribution. The overriding mutual self interest would be so compelling, he says, that nations would not indulge in the political power games that have dominated recent energy sales agreements. With strategic arms limitation treaties in jeopardy even as Glaser elaborates his model, one can’t help wondering if his cause for optimism has any real foundation. “I would put this in a totally different context,” he counters. “So far, cooperation in space has been much less of a problem than cooperation on the ground. We have had a joint Apollo-Soyuz project. It worked. We will have other similar projects. It’s much easier to do things in an environment were there are few vested interests. You know, it was easy to go to the moon, we didn’t have to make an Environmental Impact Statement to land a man on the moon. It will be difficult to convince the rest of the world that we mean well if we paint only our own flag on (the satellite). They would assume that this is just some kind of fancy weapons system. Therefore, the way to convince the rest of the world that this is not some kind of weapons system is to have them work with us.”

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