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PG&E Space-Based Solar Plans Get the Green Light

Pacific Gas & Electric’s groundbreaking plans to harness solar power in space reached a milestone last week when the California Public Utilities Commission gave their project the go-ahead. Earlier this year, PG&E signed a 200-megawatt power purchase agreement with Solaren, the California company planning to build and operate the interstellar power plant.

The weird part is that right now, there is no solar power plant in space and certainly no space-based solar power to be purchased by PG&E. Solaren’s plan is to have the plant up and running by 2016. It may seem strange that PG&E would sign a power purchase agreement for power that isn’t being produced, but there is no real risk for the utility, which won’t pay Solaren until there is power.

Solaren will harvest that power using satellites with photovoltaic (PV) panels and mirrors, which will beam collected solar energy down to a receiver station in Fresno County, California. If successful, the space-based power plant will be a breakthrough for the solar industry and prove that space-based solar is a viable, round-the-clock resource. A good first step in that quest is obtaining the legal right to build and buy the power, which PG&E and Solaren have already done.

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