Solar wind and renewable energy

With climate change the great threat to mankind and the planet in our century, engineers, scientists and governments are racing to achieve green renewable energy generation as an alternative to traditional fossils fuels like oil, gas and coal. For the last decade the main contenders in the renewable energy sector have been wind and solar power, but what if the answer to our energy crisis in future decades is to be found not here on earth but out there in space? What if we could one day generate billions of times more power than we currently need by harnessing the energy of solar wind?

What is solar wind?

Solar wind refers to a continuous stream of charged particles emitted by our sun and that escape from the sun’s gravitational pull due to their very high level of kinetic energy. This solar wind creates a kind of bubble around the solar system that gives us such sights as the burning tails of comets and the green glow of the Northern Lights.

How much energy could we potentially draw from solar wind?

A study by WashingtonStateUniversity estimates that should we be able to harness the power of solar wind on a sail no bigger than 10 metres would generate enough energy to power a thousand homes. If we had the technology and could build a huge solar wind sail of five miles across, we could generate more than 100 billion times what the whole earth currently uses.

How might we harness solar wind in the future?

The study at WashingtonStateUniversity has suggested a massive sail in space to catch the energy of solar wind. Another hypothetical method is the Dyson-Harrop satellite. The Dyson-Harrop satellite is a mega structure in space that would funnel the charged particles of solar wind through magnetic fields and from them produce a current that is beamed back to earth via infra red and into satellite dishes that collect the generated power.

Is solar wind a viable source of energy?

Solar wind is out there and the estimates of the energy we could generate from it are phenomenal, but we don’t yet have the technology required to make solar wind a viable alternative. To harness solar wind we’re going to need a vast satellite technology that just isn’t yet available to us. It’s not to say we won’t eventually get there, but the practical constraints are just too big to meet currently.

Solar wind could be an answer to our energy needs in the distant future, but the technology is a long way off from making this space dream an earth reality. If mankind is to reach the distant future safely we must act now to reduce and eventually eliminate our reliance on fossil fuels and the damage we’re doing to the earth’s climate. Solar power and offshore wind power remain our two most viable options for renewable energy sources.

About the author: James Andreson is a freelance writer working on renewables and wind power.

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