Could solar power ever be our primary energy resource?

The global public health impacts that arise from extraction and combustion of fossil fuels coupled with the increasing desire to reduce atmospheric greenhouse gasses has led to widespread recognition of the benefits of renewable energy sources: Less pollution, better air quality, less damaging to the environment, more sustainable. Clean energy –previously called alternative energy– can come from a variety of natural sources including solar, wind, water biomass, tides, and geothermal heat. The issue with transitioning to renewable sources away from fossil fuels like coal and crude oil is a question of cost.

High Energy Return on Investment (EROI) is a key contributor to economic growth and universal prosperity. Our planet has benefitted from over two hundred years of industrialization and increased standards of living based largely upon high returns from low extraction and distribution costs of fossil fuels. Unfortunately, these energy resources are not equitably distributed, and strife related to lack of access to the benefits of low-cost energy has been constant.

Advocates for sustainable energy have concluded that solar power, hydropower, windpower and (for some) nuclear energy can displace fossil fuels – especially with the advent of commercial electrified energy storage. Terrestrial solar cannot scale to become a primary energy resource without economical transportation and low storage costs, which is why the fraction of energy produced by renewables remains low.

The challenge with a transition to fully sustainable energy is purely economical: The investments and variable costs associated with sustainable electrification have led to a high Levelized Cost of Energy (LCOE) in markets that have specifically been investing heavily in wind and solar like Germany and California. One contributing factor to cost is the need for dispatchable energy due to inherent intermittency of energy production and a resulting lack of energy storage. Intermittent energy availability stems from relying on the natural elements, like sunlight, which reduces energy production to specific hours of the day dependent on weather and time of year.

We believe these facts, compounded with the lack of scalability of battery energy storage, dooms electrification plans to high energy costs for most markets. An alternative solution is needed to provide the large lever for universal prosperity that is low cost, clean, and always available energy.

Space Based Solar Power (SBSP) plans to date have not satisfied the EROI and, consequently, the LCOE needed to be an economically competitive source of energy. The advantages of SBSP are obvious: baseload capable, clean, sustainable, and dispatchable generation.

Early concepts required investment in off-planet manufacturing and feedstocks to avoid launch cost overhead. This is circular logic however, as launch costs to place manufacturing capacity, operations and maintenance personnel as well as their in-space habitats represent an enormous investment without any return for decades. The magnitude of that required investment put the SBSP solution in the category of nation-state level of investment.

Virtus Solis Technologies, however, has developed an approach to SBSP that avoids the capital expenditure associated with prior approaches and that yields the lowest LCOE of energy on the planet.

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