PGE Signs Space Based Solar Power Contract with Startup Solaren

Pacific Gas and Electric Co. has agreed to buy power from a startup company that wants to tap the strong, unfiltered sunlight found in space to solve the growing demand for clean energy.

Sometime before 2016, Solaren Corp. plans to launch the world’s first orbiting solar farm. Unfurled in space, the panels would bask in near-constant sunshine and provide a steady flow of electricity day and night.

PGE asked the California Public Utilities Commission on Friday for permission to buy 200 megawatts of electricity from Solaren’s orbiting power plant when and if it’s built. That’s enough electricity for 150,000 homes.

“We’re convinced it’s a very serious possibility that they can make this work,” said PG&E spokesman Jonathan Marshall. “It’s staggering how much power is potentially available in space. And I say ‘potentially’ because a lot remains unknown about the cost and other details.”

Many of the project’s details remain under wraps, and others haven’t been decided yet, said Cal Boerman, Solaren’s director of energy services. For example, Solaren still hasn’t decided whether to use crystalline silicon solar cells or newer, thin-film cells that weigh less than silicon but aren’t as efficient.

But the young company, a collection of aerospace engineers based in Manhattan Beach (Los Angeles County), has the technology and expertise to make it work, Boerman said

There is an interview with Solaren CEO Gary Spirnak at the PGE blog Next 100.

Solaren is a California C Corporation that formed in 2001 and is based in Manhattan Beach, CA. Solaren was formed by a team of satellite engineers and space scientists to build a space energy company to generate and distribute electricity at competitive prices from Space Solar Power (SSP) stations in geosynchronous orbit. Solaren currently consists of about ten engineers and scientists, but plans to grow to more than 100 over the next twelve months.

Solaren’s patented SSP plant design uses satellites in Earth orbit to collect solar energy in space and generate power, which is transmitted to the ground receive station for conversion to electricity for delivery to PG&E. Specifically Solaren’s SSP satellites use solar cells in space to convert the sun’s energy to electricity. This electricity powers high efficiency generator devices, known as solid state power amplifiers (SSPA). The SSPA devices on-board the satellite convert electricity into RF energy. Next the SSP satellite, using the RF energy and the satellite’s antenna, directs and transmits the RF power to the California ground receive station. The ground receiver directly converts the RF energy to electricity, and uses the local power grid for transmission to the PG&E delivery point.

The SSP pilot plant satellites are designed to use existing launch capabilities. No new space launch vehicle capabilities need to be developed to launch our satellites into space. The SSP pilot plant design for the power satellites and ground receive station will be built and validated and the power satellites prepared for shipment to the launch site during the construction phase. At the launch site, the power satellites are launched into space using existing launch vehicle capabilities and moved to their final orbital positions.

When will Solaren be able to provide more details about your SSP pilot plant project?

A: We are currently supporting the CPUC (California Public Utilities Commission) regulatory filing process, and plan to provide additional details about our SSP pilot plant project in early Summer 2009.

Cleantech coverage of the deal and plans.

Solaren would deploy a solar array into space to beam an average of 850 gigawatt hours (“GWh”) for the first year of the term, and 1,700 GWh per year over the remaining term, according to a filing to the PUC. Under the agreement, Solaren, a startup, would design, build and launch the solar array into space, operate the satellite and deliver the electricity to PG&E’s grid.

Solaren is based in Manhattan Beach, Calif., and is seeking investors for a private stock placement to raise “billions” of dollars for its business plan, said Gary Spirnak, CEO of Solaren to Cleantech Group.

Solaren is in talks with investment trusts in Europe and the United States, with which it hopes to finalize investment agreements by the summer, said Spirnak.

Next would come engineering and design of the solar plant that would orbit in space, catch the sun’s rays and send them down to a ground station on Earth, he continued.

While Solaren would provide 200MW of electricity to PG&E, according to the filing with the PUC, Solaren anticipates generating a total 1,000MW from its satellite, said Spirnak.

Hobbyspace is also tracking this development.

Solaren Space company website is just a logo and contact email as of April 14, 2009.