Blog & PodcastDealing with the Climate Crisis

Anthony Day helps you plan a sustainable future with expert guests and reports on green technologies from across a warming world.

Solar Energy

Energy is in the news. 

Energy is always in the news. It’s inextricably linked with emissions and the level or absence of emissions determines the outcome of the climate crisis. Nevertheless, it’s time to talk about something else as well. OK, I did promise to tell you about space energy, so we’ll look at that. 


George Monbiot is launching a new book, Regenesis, later in the year. I’ve asked the publishers for a review copy and invited George to be a guest on the Sustainable Futures Report Wednesday Interview. I’ll let you know what they say. 

Pandora’s Toolbox

Next week’s Wednesday Interview is with Wake Smith, who opens Pandora’s Toolbox. (It’s full of tools for geo-engineering.)

For the moment, though, I’m going to look again at Deep Adaptation from Jem Bendell, at the pressures in the UK to reject Net Zero, news of the continuing weather crisis in Australia, Finland’s new nuclear station (sorry - that’s another energy story) and hydropower by truck (that’s energy, too). And there’s a fabulous city of the future planned for the desert.

First though, what's all this about energy from space?

Space-based Solar Power

The Space Energy Initiative launched last week promotes the UK’s Space-based Solar Power (SBSP) project, delivering electricity to the grid even at night. The way it works is by having mirrors in space at a level where they are always in sunlight. They will focus the sun’s rays on to a geostationary satellite which will convert the energy into microwaves and transmit them to a receiving station on Earth. The power of these microwaves is too low to cause damage to people or aircraft passing through the beam, but when collected and concentrated from an array of antennae the energy is converted into electricity and fed into the grid. The collection array would be spread over an area of land, but this would be significantly smaller than the area needed for a wind farm of equivalent output. A single system is expected to deliver around 2GW, about the same as the average power station. It would deliver its energy 24/7 and therefore would be ideal for supplying base load. And of course there would be no emissions.SpaceBasedSolarFrazer-Nash Consultancy report

The idea of space based solar power has been around for some time, but until recently the cost of delivering the equipment into space has been far too expensive to make it viable. A report to the UK government issued by the Frazer-Nash Consultancy towards the end of last year suggested that costs have now reduced to a level to make space based solar power realistic. The plan is to have an orbital demonstrator in place by 2031 and an operational system by 2040. No short-term solution then, but certainly something worth developing. It might even come to fruition before nuclear fusion.

Deep Adaptation

Let’s talk about Deep Adaptation. Dr Jem Bendell is a Professor of Sustainability Leadership and Founder of the Institute for Leadership and Sustainability (IFLAS) at the University of Cumbria (UK) as well as Founder and former coordinator of the Deep Adaptation Forum. Back in 2018, he wrote a paper entitled Deep Adaptation: A Map for Navigating Climate Tragedy. The principal message of the paper is that humanity faces an inevitable near-term societal collapse due to climate change. In other words, it is too late to prevent most of the consequences of the climate crisis.  Bendell suggests that there is widespread collapse-denial, and therefore no academic studies have been carried out from the starting point that collapse is inevitable. If you have been following the science as I have for the last 20 years or so, how many times have we heard the mantra, “But it’s not too late,” or “We still have time”? 

Bendell says, “…some people consider statements from academics that we now face inevitable near-term societal collapse to be irresponsible due to the potential impact that may have on the motivation or mental health of people reading such statements. My research and engagement in dialogue on this topic … leads me to conclude the exact opposite. It is a responsible act to communicate this analysis now and invite people to support each other,…” 

He examines denial, and quotes a researcher who finds that “denial is rife within the environmental movement, from dipping into a local Transition Towns initiative, signing online petitions, or renouncing flying, there are endless ways for people to be “doing something” without seriously confronting the reality of climate change.” I wonder if doing a podcast like this is simply urging others to confront the reality of climate change, rather than actually doing so myself. In 2018 the paper was rejected for publication by reviewers of Sustainability Accounting, Management and Policy Journal (SAMPJ) partly because a reviewer believed that it would be wrong to dishearten readers by sharing the opinion that we face “inevitable near- term societal collapse”. Collapse denial in action.

In fact the paper was widely read elsewhere, leading to the foundation of the Deep Adaptation Forum, a mutual support network to help people across the world cope with the radical changes to society which the climate crisis will bring. 

Four years on the movement continues. There is now a Scholars’ Warning Initiative, which among other things issued a letter singed by academics from 30 countries criticising the ineffectiveness of COP26 and its undue influence by corporate interests. Bendell calls out journalists for deliberately manipulating attitudes on the pandemic and warns that they are doing the same on the climate. 

If you are concerned about the consequences of the climate crisis you can find a link to the Deep Adaptation Forum below. Even if catastrophe is truly inevitable, let’s not stop working to mitigate the consequences.


Or you could deny that the climate crisis is happening. I have mentioned before that there is now a Net Zero Scrutiny Group in the UK Parliament. Membership is very similar to the Covid Recovery Group which lobbied against lockdown and face masks and the European Research Group which brought us Brexit. Members are calling for an end to green subsidies and levies and for the re-start of fracking and coal-mining. Nigel Farage is associated with the movement. You’ll remember that while he has stood for election to Parliament on numerous occasions he has never been elected. Some say his supporters have taken over the Conservative party. They certainly delivered the Brexit referendum that he agitated for for decades. Apparently he’s now calling for a referendum on Net Zero. Bring back King Canute!

Seriously, let’s not underestimate his campaigning power. It’s been clearly shown that his success doesn’t need to be based on facts.

Australian Weather

Climate Action NowMeanwhile in Australia, exceptional weather may no longer be in the headlines but the consequences are still with us. Although the prime minister declared a national emergency in two states last week following floods, Jane Stabb and Lena Herrera Piekarski of Climate For Change based in Brunswick, Victoria, are mounting a campaign calling on the government to do more. If you’re in Australia you’re urged to write to your member of parliament and to request your Climate Action Now! pack from the Australian Conservation Foundation. Links below. Each pack contains 15 signs and 5 stickers for you to display, hand out and generally promote. I’m surprised that the ACF hasn’t put these designs on the website so people can download and print them themselves.

The Australian Bureau of Meteorology points out that while there has been exceptional rainfall in the east of Australia, at the same time there has been exceptional drought in the Northern Territory. This is believed to be the result of the current La Niña situation being reinforced by climate change.


Nuclear Power

Moving on to energy stories, the first is about the opening of Europe’s first new nuclear station for about 15 years. Olkiluoto-3 is up and running and is expected to reach full power of 1.6MW in July of this year. At that point it will supply 14% of Finland’s electricity. This is plant uses the same design as two units currently in operation in Taishan, China, as well as the plants currently under construction in Flamanville, France, and Hinkley C, UK. Olkiluoto 3, Flamanville and Hinkley C are all severely delayed and have incurred massive cost overruns. There have been technical issues but the Taishan plants have been running safely for some years. I have been sceptical of Hinkley C for a while, as regular listeners will know. Apart from the delay and the soaring cost, the price guarantee agreed with the government was at an index-linked level about twice the wholesale price of electricity at the time of signing. It will always be significantly more expensive than wind, but unlike wind it will be able to produce a constant output 24/7 to satisfy base load. Electricity produced by nuclear can replace electricity produced by gas, which strengthens the nation’s energy security.


My final story today is about an imaginative variation on hydropower. Hydropower conventionally involves a dam filled by rivers and the water is released into turbines which generate electricity. Hydro can in some cases be used to provide a steady supply to cover baseload or in other cases it can be released very rapidly, reaching maximum power in only a few seconds, in order to deal with short-term peaks in demand.

Electric Truck Hydropower

Anthropocene Magazine draws my attention to a paper on Science Direct entitled Electric Truck Hydropower (ETH). The way this works is for trucks to fill up with water at the top of an incline and to charge batteries on their way down by using regenerative braking. At the bottom the water will be released and the battery be removed for connection to the grid, or the vehicle, carrying goods, could continue on its way under battery electric power. Alternatively the vehicle would exchange battery and water tank for empties and return to the top of the hill. 

The system would be most suited to parts of Asia or South America where roads descending from mountain ranges extend downhill for mile after mile. In areas like this it can be very difficult to find suitable sites for hydro dams. This system uses roads which already exist. The authors believe that that cost of ETH would be only about half that of conventional hydroelectricity and the electricity generation world potential for the technology is estimated to be 1.2 PWh per year, or around 4% of global energy consumption. 

Investment will be considerable, but unlike a dam, it doesn’t have to be complete before the system starts producing power. Once the grid connection and water supplies are in place, trucks can be added to the fleet as funds permit.

Gravity Train

I reported in a previous episode on a similar gravity-based generation system. This used an inclined railway track with a very heavy train on it. As the train descended it generated electricity, again by regenerative braking. When there was surplus power in the grid it was used to take the train back up to the top of the incline again. The difference between this and the truck system is that the train will need a new, dedicated, track, whereas the truck system, as I've noted, just uses existing roads.

And finally,


Have you ever said,”We are where we are?” Or “If I were going there I really wouldn't start from here,”? In other words, wouldn't it sometimes be nice to start from scratch in a situation where that just isn't possible because of costs resources and other circumstances. I've just come across the city of Neom. It's going to be built in the desert of Saudi Arabia. The idea is to create something which will be the ultimate in urban planning which is something I am sure all local architects would love to do if they had a clean sheet or a clean site, but almost nobody has that opportunity. The core of Neom will be the Line, a linear city 170 km long when it is eventually complete. It will run in a straight line along the coast of the Red Sea, although parts of it will be some distance inland because of course the coast of the Red Sea does not run in a straight line. The city will be built in modules where almost everything will be within a 5-minute walk. There will be no cars, no streets, no emissions. All transport and all services will be underground, beneath The Line. All power will be renewable.

As far as I can tell construction has not yet started, but plans are extensive. There’s a link to the project website below. 

I wonder what the carbon footprint of constructing a 170km long city will be.

And that's it for this week.

Thank you for listening to the Sustainable Futures Report. 

I'm back on Wednesday with the Wednesday Interview. 

I’m Anthony Day.

Bye for now.


Space energy 

Deep Adaptation 


Climate for Change - Australian floods 

Finland Nuclear Station 

Electric Truck Hydropower 

Neom - city of the future 


No thoughts on “Space Based Solar Power”

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A weekly podcast and blog brought to you by Anthony Day. A selection of stories and interviews aiming to be sustainable, topical and interesting.
And also, I do address conferences.

Anthony Day

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