Solar Power Satellite, Wind Up Car, and Other Energy News

Stories about the feasibility of a solar power satellite system and wind up cars that recapture braking energy were among the energy news stories covered in brief in this ongoing feature.

| November/December 1981

072 solar power satellite - G.NICOLSON - Fotolia

A solar power satellite system would use large orbiting arrays of solar panels to collect energy and transmit it back to earth via microwave.


SOLAR POWER SATELLITE: Too costly and too uncertain were the words used by the National Academy of Sciences in evaluating the solar power satellite (SPS) concept. The Department of Energy had proposed an SPS system comprising 60 photovoltaic-cell-equipped satellites—each the size of Manhattan Island—which would supply electricity to earth. The project's cost was estimated at more than $3 trillion.

WIND UP CARS: UCLA engineers believe that the car of the future may be equipped with devices fitted with giant elastic bands that—in effect—recycle braking energy for use in acceleration. The project's directors point out that as much as 30% of the fuel burned in urban driving is wasted in braking. However, the researchers admit they've been unable to whip one problem encountered in their testing: the rubber bands keep breaking.

VIEW FROM THE EXECUTIVE SUITE: A recent study has shown that while 55% of the general public prefer solar power to that generated by coal or nuclear facilities, only 9% of the corporate executives surveyed view sun power as a desirable energy alternative.

COCONUT WATTS: Natives on the South Seas island of Bora Bora have returned to the power source they used prior to World War II: a generating plant fueled by coconut husks. It's estimated that each Bora Bora household requires the equivalent of six coconut husks an hour to produce its electricity.

AN AC BREAKTHROUGH? About the same time Exxon's Reliance Electric Company announced that it was abandoning its research on alternating current synthesis technology (a technique that was aimed at increasing the efficiency of electric motors), NASA revealed that it has developed a device to reduce the energy consumption of such powerplants by half.

A SOLAR/LIQUID METAL SYSTEM, developed by an Israeli scientist, employs a collector containing a metal alloy which, when heated and mixed with a volatile liquid, causes the latter substance to vaporize. The vapor then drives the metal, at high speed, through piping in a high-intensity magnetic field. Electrodes tap the electricity that's produced, and the metal and liquid are then separated and recycled. The system has no moving parts, will cost about $70,000 for a 100-kilowatt unit, and should last 30 years without repairs.

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