Feb 20 2011

Stratfor’s George Friedman Likes Space-Based Solar Power in “The Next Decade”

I greatly enjoyed George Friedman’s new book, The Next Decade (2011). A New York Times best seller, it’s sort of a more focused, near-term sequel to his blockbluster, The Next 100 Years (2009).

Satellites that collect solar energy in space and beam it to Earth should begin to impact our growing energy use by 2015.

Friedman’s section on technology and demographics is both simple and powerful, and reflects basic principles regarding economic cycles and prosperity that also guide us here at 21stCenturyWaves.com.

…economic expansion and contraction are driven … at a deeper level … by demographic forces and by technological innovation.

The challenge for the next decade will be that “breakthrough technologies” — the ones that stimulate prosperity by meeting key societal needs — will be in short supply.

Friedman blames the financial Panic of 2008 and the great recession of 2008-10 for reducing investment in new technologies and making people unusually risk-adverse. Plus a major engine of technological development — military needs during major wars — has not been activated by the pre-Maslow conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Friedman forecasts that financial stresses will subside after 2015 (as the next Maslow Window opens) but,

Given the lead time in technological development, the next generation of notable technological breakthroughs won’t emerge until the 2020s.

While Friedman’s picture is reasonable, it’s likely he underestimates the Great Boom of 2015 that’s expected to trigger a golden age of prosperity, exploration, and technology comparable to the Kennedy Boom of the 1960s. The reason is we haven’t seen a financial Panic/Great Recesson sequence like our current one in over 100 years!

Back then it began with the Panic of 1893 and the Great 1890s Recession. They were followed in 1899 by one of the most spectacular recoveries and ebullient decades (i.e., the Peary/Panama/T. Roosevelt Maslow Window) in the history of the U.S..
Please see (especially Fig. 4): “The Economics of Ebullience Points to a Sparkling New Global Space Age.”

Because of the close connection of energy availability with economic growth, and the fact that most increases in energy use have come from developing countries, the question of what will power technological innovation in the next decade assumes center stage.

Increased oil use will not be able to meet global energy demands of the next decade, and Friedman concludes that the only viable choices are coal and natural gas. And while the U.S. has large domestic supplies of both, the trick is…

The president must choose the balance between the two available fossil fuels, coal and gas. Then he must tell the people that these are the only choices. If he fails to persuade the public of this, there will not be energy for the technologies that will emerge in the next decade.

One of these new technologies is space-based solar power. Friedman believes that energy needs in the future will be driven by desalination of ocean water associated with increases in global standards of living and growing industrialization, and the best long-term solution is collecting solar energy in space and beaming it to Earth.

Progress is occurring. For example, a Southern California company, Solaren Corp. has contracted with Pacific Gas & Electric to sell it 200 megawatts of power per year starting in 2016 (Wall Street Journal, 9/27/10), after testing systems in space during 2014. While the Switzerland-based Space Energy Group’s business plan features a solar satellite in orbit in 3 years. And in 2009, Japan announced a new $ 21 B space solar power initiative.

However, Friedman warns that the U.S. government is currently funding worthy research into key technologies for cures of degenerative diseases and for robotics,

But the fundamental problem, energy, has not had its due.

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