WHO needs wires? An idea for sending power over long distances via lasers and balloons could help provide emergency power where it is needed. Stephen Blank of the New York Institute of Technology wants to use aerostats, military-grade balloons, to send hundreds of kilowatts of power over several hundred kilometres. A laser would be sent up to the aerostat through a fibre-optic cable, then beamed through the air to a distant aerostat where the high-energy light is converted into electricity, which streams back down to earth via a tether.
Getting energy into disaster zones could be one of the first uses, says Blank, pointing to the aftermath of typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines. “You could have an aircraft carrier off the coast of the Philippines, with its nuclear generator, beaming power where it’s needed,” says Blank, who is to present the concept at an aerospace conference in March next year.
The ultimate goal is space-based solar power, beamed to Earth via lasers from orbit. This research is at its most advanced in Japan, says Reza Zekavat of Michigan Technological University. A $21 billion Japanese project aims to put 1 gigawatt of solar generation capacity in space within the next 30 years.
This article appeared in print under the headline “Power to disaster zones with a laser and a balloon”
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