Image: Ernest Robais
The array of solar farms and massive storage facilities that dot many of the coasts of the western world are really the refining point of the solar power equation. They might as well be, because the overwhelming majority of excess energy from the plants is energy, derived from natural gas or solar energy, that can be used to generate clean power for our cities and homes, on demand. When that power is not immediately available, what’s needed is a geologic storage facility — space on the ground or in the sky, which can hold the energy for energy storage.
The researchers at the Max Planck Institute of Solar System Research in Germany studied this space-landing nexus in detail and, in a paper published in Icarus in July, they have named the space intake/receiving location “Endor”, after the fictional star from the Star Wars universe. Their findings were that Endor is needed at hundreds of stations across the western US to avoid harmful, lengthy blackouts caused by the sun’s destruction of short-lived solar radiation collectors. It’s a pretty subtle acknowledgement of the importance of Earth’s deserts, as opposed to solar farms that hover over them.
There are several types of storage stations that can help this search for Endor — some that collect power from the sun, some that harvest power from water, and others that can collect power from hydropower or batteries. Once again, if we want to meet energy demands, we need to have space for these storage facilities.