by William John Cox
May 17, 2010
William John Cox is a retired prosecutor and public interest lawyer,
author and political activist who is currently writing a fact-based
fictional political philosophy.
His promotion of a peaceful
political evolution is based at
VotersEvolt.com, and he can be
contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The industrial revolution has been driven for the past two centuries
by the burning of hydrocarbons, first by coal in the Age of Steam,
and then by oil and natural gas in the Age of Petroleum.
the flow of these fossil fuels slows down as demand goes up,
ever-more-intrusive and massive extraction efforts increasingly
threaten the progress of industrialization and the civilization it
Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico
is the latest and largest of hundreds of such ocean spills, and the
recent methane gas explosion in Massey’s Montcoal mine was just
another of the many disasters, worldwide, which have snuffed out the
lives of workers who labor in dangerous conditions to feed our
All around the planet we live upon, the quest for hydrocarbons is
threatening the ability of humans to survive in the degrading
environmentand to govern their own corporate-dominated societies.
It is not just the environmental destruction caused by the
extraction of coal-bed methane in Wyoming and Montana, the
“fracking” of deep shale-gas formations and the consequential
contamination of fresh water aquifers and rivers in the northeastern
United States, or the blasting away of mountain tops in Appalachia.
It is the fact that these extreme efforts are facilitated by a
concert of corporate and governmental corruption that erodes freedom
and democracy in the United States and threatens human civilization
around the world.
There is no hope for the recovery of earth’s environment and the
survival of human civilization as long as extraction decisions are
governed by corporate greed. Public energy policy must be based on
what is good for the people who vote for representatives, not on
what produces profits for the corporations who buy the votes of the
It may already be too late. The environmental destruction caused by
the production and burning of fossil fuels may have already set in
motion irreversible events which will ultimately spell the
extinction of humanity. But, not to worry.
Our loving and forgiving
Mother Earth will survive.
It may take eons
for her oceans, winds, and rains to wipe clean the crap we have
produced, but someday, never fear, another of Gaia’s children will
learn to fly and will study the artifacts of our existence and will
wonder of we and why?
There may be, however, a more sensible and realistic alternative
which will preserve the environment and human civilization, and
which offers a more exciting and rewarding future for our children,
as they learn to fly throughout the universe and to explore its
So, let’s expand our vision and imagine for a moment how life could
be after just a decade or two of innovation in the public interest.
A Vision for the Future
Imagine that the Interstate Highway System and most major streets
and freeways in America were improved to provide a constant source
of electromagnetic energy sufficient to power a standard automobile,
with comfortable seating for five adults, anywhere in the United
States at no cost to the owner-operator.
Imagine the introduction of triple-hybrid cars designed to operate
primarily on electromagnetic energy supplied by induction through
the surface of most highways and freeways, and which are equipped
with small fuel-efficient internal combustion engines to supplement
rechargeable batteries for trips on local streets and byways.
Imagine people could travel for free throughout the United States as
a matter of national privilege. Workers could get to their jobs
without having to labor for the first hour each day just to pay for
getting there. People would have more money to spend on vacations,
and they would be able to tour the nation, see the grand sights, and
visit with friends and relatives along the way.
Imagine the positive economic consequences that would flow from the
reconstruction of America’s transportation infrastructure and the
creation of a domestic manufacturing capacity to build for the
Is this a realistic dream?
If the United States decided to provide
free power on its national highways as a matter of innovative public
policy, where would it obtain the energy?
A Miraculous Source of Abundant Energy
First proposed by Dr.
Peter Glaser in 1968, space-based solar
technology can provide an inexhaustible, safe, pollution-free supply
of energy and may offer a far more logical solution to current
energy problems than petroleum or ethanol-based or even
nuclear-fueled hydrogen systems.
The technology currently exists to launch solar-collector satellites
into geostationary orbits around the Earth to convert the Sun’s
radiant energy into electricity 24 hours a day and to safely
transmit the electricity by microwave beams to rectifying antennas (rectennas)
Space-solar energy is the greatest source of untapped energy which
could, potentially, completely solve the world’s energy and
greenhouse gas emission problems.
Following its proposal, the concept of solar power satellites was
extensively studied by both the Department of Energy and the
National Aeronautics and Space Administration. By 1981, it was
determined that the concept was a high-risk venture; however,
further study was recommended.
With increases in electricity demand and costs, NASA took a “fresh
look” at the concept between 1995 and 1997.
The NASA study
envisioned a trillion-dollar project to place several dozen
solar-power satellites in geostationary orbits by 2050, sending
between two gigawatts and five gigawatts of power to Earth.
the study’s leader, John Mankins,
now says the program,
through the cracks because no organization is responsible for both
space programs and energy security.”
The project may have remained shelved except for the military’s need
for sources of energy in its campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan,
costs $400 a gallon.
A report by the Department of
Defense’s National Security Space Office in 2007
“begin a coordinated national program to develop
[space-based solar power].”
There are three basic engineering problems presented in the
deployment of a space-based solar power system:
the size, weight and
capacity of solar collectors to absorb energy
the ability of robots
to assemble solar collectors in outer space
the cost and reliability of
lifting collectors and robots into space
Two of these problems have been substantially solved since
space-solar power was originally proposed.
New thin-film advances in
the design of solar collectors have steadily improved, allowing for
increases in the efficiency of energy conversion and decreases in
size and weight. At the same time,
industrial robots have been
greatly improved and are now used extensively in heavy manufacturing
to perform complex tasks.
The remaining problem is the expense of lifting equipment and
materials into space.
At a cost of $20,000 per kilogram of payload,
the U.S. is currently relying on the last few remaining flights of
the space shuttle to move satellites into orbit and to resupply the
space station. It has
been estimated that economic viability of
space solar energy would require a reduction in the payload cost to
less than $200 per kilogram and the total expense, including
delivery and assembly in orbit, to less than $3,500 per kilogram.
An American president once said,
“We choose to go to the moon in
this decade, not because it is easy, but because it is hard.”
United States readily achieved that objective and, effectively, won
the Cold War. A similar challenge is now presented in the “Energy
What, if anything, will the current president say or do?
Although there are substantial costs associated with the development
of space-solar power, it makes far more sense to invest the precious
space exploration budget in the development of an efficient and
reliable power supply for the future, rather than to waste tax
dollars on a stupid and ineffective missile defense system or on an
ego trip to Mars.
With funding for the space shuttle ending in 2012 and for the space
station in 2017, America must decide upon a realistic policy for
space exploration, or else it will be left in the dust by other
nations, which are rapidly developing futuristic space projects.
China has aggressively moved into space by orbiting astronauts and
by demonstrating a capability to destroy satellites, and it is
investing $35 billion of its hard-currency reserves in the
development of energy-efficient green technology, and has become the
world’s leading producer of solar panels.
Over the past two years, Japan has committed $21 billion to secure
By 2030, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency
“put into geostationary orbit a solar-power generator that
will transmit one gigawatt of energy to Earth, equivalent to the
output of a large nuclear power plant.”
Japanese officials estimate
that, ultimately, they will be able to
deliver electricity at a cost
of $0.09 per kilowatt-hour, which will be competitive with all other
The first nation that captures and effectively makes use of
space-solar energy will dominate the world energy market for
generations to come and will provide its citizens with a much
healthier and a far more secure society.