California utility company Pacific Gas & Electric has asked state regulators for permission to sign a contract with startup Solaren Corp. to purchase up to 200 megawatts of solar power beamed to Earth from space.
PG&E didn't share any information about the costs of this project, except that it would be over the market price of 12.9 cents per kWh over a 15-year period.
Solaren has agreed to ship 850 gigawatt-hours of solar power in the first year of operation, estimated in 2016, doubling that amount in later years. The power would be sent by radio frequency from an earth-orbiting satellite to a receiving station in Fresno. The energy-conversion technology has been used by communications satellites for 45 years, albeit on a much smaller scale, Solaren said. PG&E wouldn't disclose the cost of the proposed 15-year contract, but said it would be above-market, more than 12.9 cents a kilowatt-hour, according to documents filed Friday with the California Public Utilities Commission.
Solaren's orbiting generator would beam power to earth 24 hours a day except during the spring and fall equinoxes, which last two to three weeks each. During those times, power transmissions could be blocked for a few minutes to an hour around midnight, but such outages would be predictable and are included in the power delivery schedule, the companies said.
"The potential rewards here are very great," said PG&E spokesman Jonathan Marshall. "If Solaren can succeed in its venture...there's tremendous potential for this kind of technology to be put to expanded use." He added that PG&E wouldn't be at risk, since the utility has agreed to pay only for power delivered.