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Wireless Power Transmission

Solar Power Satellites and Microwave Power Transmission

Andrew K. Soubel Energy Law Spring 2004 Chicago-Kent College of Law

Background Solar Power Satellite Microwave Power Transmission Current Designs Legal Issues Conclusion



Nikola Tesla
1856-1943 Innovations: – Alternating current – Wireless power transmission experiments at Wardenclyffe

1899 – Able to light lamps over 25 miles away without using wires – High frequency current, of a Tesla coil, could light lamps filled with gas (like neon)

1940’s to Present
World War II developed ability to convert energy to microwaves using a magnetron, no method for converting microwaves back to electricity 1964 William C. Brown demonstrated a rectenna which could convert microwave power to electricity

Brief History of Solar Power
1940-50’s Development of the Photovoltaic cell 1958 First US Satellite that used Solar Power 1970’s Oil embargo brought increased interest and study

Solar Power from Satellites
1968’s idea for Solar Power Satellites proposed by Peter Glaser

Would use microwaves to transmit power to Earth from Solar Powered Satellites

Idea gained momentum during the Oil Crises of 1970’s, but after prices stabilized idea was dropped

US Department of Energy research program 19781981

Details of the DOE Study
Construct the satellites in space

Each SPS would have 400 million solar cells

Use the Space Shuttle to get pieces to a low orbit station Tow pieces to the assembly point using a purpose built space tug (similar to space shuttle)

Advantages over Earth based solar power
More intense sunlight In geosynchronous orbit, 36,000 km (22,369 miles) an SPS would be illuminated over 99% of the time No need for costly storage devices for when the sun is not in view

Only a few days at spring and fall equinox would the satellite be in shadow

Waste heat is radiated back into space Power can be beamed to the location where it is needed, don’t have to invest in as large a grid No air or water pollution is created during generation

Issues identified during the DOE study – Complexity—30 years to complete – Size—6.5 miles long by 3.3 miles wide Transmitting antenna ? mile in diameter(1 km)

Cost—prototype would have cost $74 billion Microwave transmission
– –

Interference with other electronic devices Health and environmental effects

1980’s to Present
Japanese continued to study the idea of SPS throughout the 1980’s In 1995 NASA began a Fresh Look Study

Set up a research, technology, and investment schedule

NASA Fresh Look Report
SPS could be competitive with other energy sources and deserves further study Research aimed at an SPS system of 250 MW Would cost around $10 billion and take 20 years National Research Council found the research worthwhile but under funded to achieve its goals

Collector area must be between 50 (19 sq miles) and 150 square kilometers (57 sq miles) 50 Tons of material – Current rates on the Space Shuttle run between $3500 and $5000 per pound – 50 tons (112,000lbs)=$392,000,000

There are advantages Possible power generation of 5 to 10 gigawatts

“If the largest conceivable space power station were built and operated 24 hours a day all year round, it could produce the equivalent output of ten 1 million kilowattclass nuclear power stations.”

Possible Designs

Deployment Issues
Cost of transporting materials into space Construction of satellite

Space Walks Routine Meteor impacts

– –

Possible Solutions
International Space Station President’s plan for a return to the moon Either could be used as a base for construction activities

Microwave Power Transmission

How the power gets to Earth

From the Satellite
Solar power from the satellite is sent to Earth using a microwave transmitter Received at a “rectenna” located on Earth Recent developments suggest that power could be sent to Earth using a laser

Frequency 2.45 GHz microwave beam Retro directive beam control capability Power level is well below international safety standard

Microwave vs. Laser Transmission
– – –


More developed High efficiency up to 85% Beams is far below the lethal levels of concentration even for a prolonged exposure Cause interference with satellite communication industry

Recently developed solid state lasers allow efficient transfer of power Range of 10% to 20% efficiency within a few years Conform to limits on eye and skin damage

“An antenna comprising a mesh of dipoles and diodes for absorbing microwave energy from a transmitter and converting it into electric power.”

Microwaves are received with about 85% efficiency Around 5km across (3.1 miles) 95% of the beam will fall on the rectenna

Rectenna Design
Currently there are two different design types being looked at – Wire mesh reflector Built on a rigid frame above the ground Visually transparent so that it would not interfere with plant life – Magic carpet Material pegged to the ground

5,000 MW Receiving Station (Rectenna). This station is about a mile and a half long.

Rectenna Issues
Size – Miles across Location – Aesthetic – Near population center Health and environmental side effects – Although claim that microwaves or lasers would be safe, how do you convince people

Current Developments

SPS 2000

Project in Development in Japan Goal is to build a low cost demonstration model by 2025 8 Countries along the equator have agreed to be the site of a rectenna

10 MW satellite delivering microwave power – Will not be in geosynchronous orbit, instead low orbit 1100 km (683 miles) – Much cheaper to put a satellite in low orbit – 200 seconds of power on each pass over rectenna

Power to Mobile Devices
If microwave beams carrying power could be beamed uniformly over the earth they could power cell phones Biggest problem is that the antenna would have to be 25-30 cm square

Low Orbit
Communications industry proposing to have hundreds of satellites in low earth orbit These satellites will use microwaves to beam communications to the ground Could also be used to beam power

Since a low orbit microwave beam would spread less, the ground based rectenna could be smaller Would allow collectors on the ground of a few hundred meters across instead of 10 kilometers In low orbit they circle the Earth in about every 90 minutes

Would require a network of hundreds of satellites

Air Force currently track 8500 man made objects in space, 7% satellites

Would make telecommunications companies into power companies

Ground based solar only works during clear days, and must have storage for night Power can be beamed to the location where it is needed, don’t have to invest in as large a grid A network of low orbit satellites could provide power to almost any point on Earth continuously because one satellite would always be in range

Legal Issues
Who will oversee? Environmental Concerns International

Funding the research In charge of space flight for the United States Would be launching the satellites and doing maintenance

Federal Communications Commission

The FCC was established by the Communications Act of 1934 and is charged with regulating interstate and international communications by radio, television, wire, satellite and cable.

Possible health hazards
– –

Effects of long term exposure Exposure is equal to the amount that people receive from cell phones and microwaves The size of construction for the rectennas is massive


Geosynchronous satellites would take up large sections of space Interference with communication satellites Low orbit satellites would require agreements about rectenna locations and flight paths

More reliable than ground based solar power In order for SPS to become a reality it several things have to happen:
– – –

Government support Cheaper launch prices Involvement of the private sector

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