Can we transmit energy via lasers and satellites?

13 June 2010

Question

Hi Chris and team,

I read an article in the local paper which is talking about using concentrated solar power (CSP) from the Sahara to power Europe. It said that Desertec would need 20 or more efficient, direct current cables each costing $1 billlion to transmit electricity north beneath the Mediterranean.

I wonder if it would be possible to convert the energy into a laser beam which could then be bounced off a satellite back to Europe, thereby not requiring such long cables?
 
I would be interested to see some discussion.
 
Regards
Paul
NZ

Answer

We put this question to Dr Graeme Hirst, from the STFC's Central Laser Facility...

Graeme - It is an interesting thought. Yes, and in principle you can. People have looked at it for a number of applications. One is, can you use it to power that satellite? Satellite power is a tough challenge, and yes, in principle, it can be made to work, but there are issues, obviously. You'd have to decide how you're going to keep people you wanted out of the way, out of the way of the beam. It's kind of an unwritten rule that you never point a laser at anything you don't intend to do. And so, you would have to ask how you make sure it wouldn't go wrong. You've also got efficiency issues because even now, even with the very best lasers, they're not 100% efficient at converting electricity into light and then converting it back again.

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