Solar and wind energy are changing their face

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Reflecting on the future is the domain of a person who constantly imagines how the world and our lives will change in the coming decades or even centuries. The beginning of speculation is always the present, that is, the problems we experience here and now. For example, many people are wondering about the future of oil and gas, which are currently the world’s largest energy sources.

During the 34th Chaos Communication Congress meeting, a group of scientists from Germany presented their own vision of an ideal energy source. Alternative energy sources must meet several conditions:

  • be infinite (or almost infinite),
  • not to harm nature,
  • be available anytime and anywhere,
  • create economic benefits, even in the development phase, using existing technologies.

Anja Kohfeldt and Stefan Junk predict that the future of solar stations lies in orbit around the Earth. Their colleague Kristoph Sieg, on the other hand, is convinced that today’s power plants will be replaced by flying wind turbines.

Cosmic microwave oven

The first alternative energy source that researchers discussed at the congress was solar panels – but not those we know. Scientists proposed to launch a huge solar power plant in orbit around the Earth . This would eliminate all obstacles that currently prevent us from using the sun’s energy to the maximum extent: clouds, location (both its choice and the need to engage many places to operate in a 24/7 mode), as well as infrastructure for transmitting energy to the mainland . The accumulated energy could then be sent to the surface of the Earth by microwave radiation.

This system also has its drawbacks. First, the construction and commissioning costs could be unimaginably high; according to preliminary estimates, they could even reach tens of billions of dollars. Second, the orbit would have to constantly adjust to compensate for the Moon’s pull and other factors, which is neither easy nor cheap.

Third – and worst of all – is the question of energy transmission. Generating microwave radiation and transmitting it to our planet would require the use of very long (about 1 km) space antennas, as well as even longer terrestrial receivers (up to 5 km in diameter). Moreover, misdirecting the beam would be disastrous: it could burn anything in its path to ashes. It’s scary because a slight error in computer calculations is enough, not to mention deliberate action.

Nevertheless, this idea is already being dealt with by three space agencies: NASA, Japanese JAXA and Chinese CNSA. While everything is still in its infancy, research is already underway and the technology is constantly evolving.

The wind of change

Scientists see yet another alternative to oil, gas and nuclear power that seems more likely to be realized – and it certainly isn’t a Death Star installation. The idea is to modernize wind turbines, turning them from powerful windmills into unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) connected to the ground station by cable.

Many wind turbines today are often stationary because air masses do not move regularly at their height. On the other hand, drones can soar from 200 meters to a kilometer. At these altitudes, the winds are much stronger and more frequent.

The generator can be mounted both on a drone (whose rotating blades can produce electricity) and on a ground station (where energy will be produced by a drone pulled by a cable under the influence of wind). In theory, it is an almost ideal source of energy: available anytime, anywhere, with no environmental impact and no need for costly R&D.

The idea is not new – such designs were first proposed in the 1970s. However, the task of automatically controlling a relatively short distance along a complex trajectory requires a lot of computing power. Computers that are powerful, yet compact enough to fit into small airplanes, appeared quite recently.

This is where the idea takes off: the software was created on an open platform and then posted on the internet, allowing the drone design to be tested in real life and the idea to be improved by as many people as possible. 

Do we have any other options?

Yes! Surely you’ve heard of geothermal energy and tides, as well as the various types of biofuels. The best specialists around the world are exploring every possibility, but so far no one has managed to get hold of the Holy Grail – each scenario has its pros and cons.

Perhaps within 20 or 30 years the soaring power plants will be replaced by drones hovering above completely transformed cityscapes. If you are a modern soothsayer, check out our Earth 2050 page  , where you will find many forecasts prepared by experts, futurists and ordinary internet users. Share your vision of the future with us – maybe it will turn out to be a hit …