In the 1941 short story “Reason,” science fiction author Isaac Asimov described a future where electricity solar power was generated in space and then beamed down to Earth1. It took nearly three decades for engineers to first describe a workable way to potentially make such an orbiting solar power plant work. This week, nearly 50 years after that first engineering proposal and over 80 years after the short story, CalTech has made a big step in making that science-fiction idea a reality: on Tuesday, its experimental orbiting solar power satellite was launched into orbit. The project is backed by over $100 million in donations from real estate billionaire Donald Bren.
This prototype satellite will be able to begin its first tests within a few weeks. It consists of a test modular component that could be the basis for building larger solar power plants in orbit, 32 different types of photovoltaic cells to test what type might be best to use in space, and a microwave array to test beaming solar power to the Earth’s surface. If the technology pans out, it could help deal with one of the major limitations of solar power: in orbit, you can arrange things so that it’s rarely ever nighttime.
“No matter what happens, this prototype is a major step forward,” Ali Hajimiri, a co-director of the project, said in a press release. “It works here on Earth and has passed the rigorous steps required of anything launched into space. There are still many risks, but having gone through the whole process has taught us valuable lessons. We believe the space experiments will provide us with plenty of additional useful information that will guide the project as we continue to move forward.”
1 In the story, the robots who maintained that power station also ended up developing a religion in which they worshiped it, so keep an eye on ChatGPT’s spiritual proclivities once its training data grows to include information about the project’s successful launch.
The Big Read
Renewable Energies Saw A $500 Billion Boom In Government Investment In 2022
The International Energy Agency reported that global government spending to support clean energy increased by over $500 billion since March and a plethora of policies emerged to cut reliance on fossil fuels.
Discoveries And Innovations
The USDA has granted a conditional license for a vaccine developed by Dalan Animal Health, which helps prevent American Foulbrood disease in honeybees.
Family farms around the country have started to use food waste to generate electricity for their operations.
A real estate development in Florida contains 86 homes that can stay solar power for weeks even if they’re cut off from the grid thanks to solar power and good engineering.
Sustainability Deals Of The Week
Next-Generation Batteries: West Virginia will soon be home to a new factory owned by Form Energy, which has created a next-generation battery comprised of cheap materials like iron, water, and oxygen.
Battery Recycling Online: Nevada-based Aqua Metals announced that its lithium battery recycling facility is now operational, and expects its first products to go on the market in the first quarter of this year.
Deep Tech: The University of Chicago has launched Polsky Deep Tech Ventures, a $20 million initiative to develop companies built on cutting-edge science, including an accelerator devoted to cleantech startups.
On The Horizon
Despite potential economic downturns, analysts expect investments in the cleantech sector to continue to grow in 2023 and beyond, with Pitchbook estimating that the total size of the market will be about $1.4 trillion within the next five years.
What Else We’re Reading This Week
Green Transportation Update
Tesla got off to a great start in 2022, cranking up production at its Shanghai plant and opening new Gigafactories early in the year in Berlin and Austin. But as the months passed, things began to shift, not merely because of the ongoing chaos of CEO Elon Musk’s purchase of Twitter. And 2023 isn’t looking great so far. The world’s leading EV brand reported fourth-quarter delivery figures this week that missed analysts’ expectations, which had already been ratched down. With increasingly tough competition in the EV market, both in North America and China, Tesla’s stated goal of growing sales by 50% annually looks increasingly unlikely even as overall sales of battery-powered cars and trucks rise across the board.
The Big Transportation Story
Plug In, Turn On: The Hottest New Electric Vehicles Coming In 2023
An impressive selection of electric cars, trucks, and SUVs are to debut during 2023 with stunning styling and extended operating ranges that should help boost sales exponentially—perhaps even dramatically—among an expanding assemblage of EV aficionados. Here’s a quick look at 19 brand-new models that are headed to dealers’ showrooms in the months ahead.
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