Everybody and their dog is scratching away on the back of envelopes working out what would be the best way of spending this fiscal boost we're about to have thrust upon us. Should it be gazillions for the railways, fibreoptic and green energy? Ending child poverty? Insulating every house? "Saving" car manufacturers?
How about something truly interesting instead? Something that we really would like to have for the money we spend? How about a space solar power system?
Getting SSP off the ground will require the involvement of the private sector, the study observes, but private firms are unlikely to act without a demonstration project to confirm the viability of the scheme. The NSSO estimates that this would cost $8 billion-10 billion, and suggests that it could be funded by a consortium involving America and its allies—such as Canada, Japan, the European Union or Australia, all of which have shown interest in SSP in the past.
Well, actually, we could do that twice over for just the cost of the cut in VAT already implemented.
Mr Musk thinks his non-bureaucratic, low-cost approach could reduce the cost of launching payloads into low-earth orbit from around $6,000-10,000 per kilogram today to around $3,000 with Falcon 9, and eventually (by reusing more of each launcher) to around $1,000. Mr Musk has his eye on manned missions to Mars, among other things, but much lower launch costs would also have the side-effect of making SSP more viable. The NSSO estimates that a launch cost of $440 per kilogram, for example, would reduce the cost per kWh to between eight and ten cents.
Now yes, I agree that the technology isn't quite there yet. But if we're going to insist on splurging money all over the economy why don't we at least try to buy with it something we actually want? Something where government spending really is incremental, value adding? Something which would, in terms of a demonstration project at least, actually (well, possibly could be) a public good?
With a rather nice side effect as well. If such space based solar does in fact work then we've, at a stroke, solved climate change. 8-10 cents a KWh is about the same price as coal and vastly cheaper than wind or terrestrial solar and, given that such systems would be in geostationary orbit we don't have to worry about night and day (or cloud cover, obviously) so we solve the storage problem as well.
At the time of writing I can think of only one reason why the likes of Greenpeace, FoE, the nef and so on are not shouting in praise of such an idea. That they wouldn't actually like us to have a reasonably priced non-carbon energy supply but I'm a tad mystified as to why not.