- A massive solar sail could supply the electricity needs of the entire planet.
- The technology harvests the power in solar wind.
- Getting all that electricity back to Earth, however, would be a challenge.
Solar and wind power have long been two of the main contenders in the race to find the next big renewable energy resource. Rather than choosing between the two, scientists at Washington State University have instead combined them.
Using a massive 8,400-kilometer-wide (5,220-mile-wide) solar sail to harvest the power in solar wind, the team hopes their concept could generate 1 billion billion gigawatts of power, far more power than humanity needs -- if they can get that power back to Earth.
"It's quite amazing how much power it can actually produce," said Dirk Schulze-Makuch, a scientist at Washington State University and a co-author of the paper, which appears in the International Journal of Astrobiology. "In principle it should work quite well, but there are some practical issues."
Solar wind doesn't act like wind on Earth, and the satellite wouldn't generate electricity like a windmill.