The American Energy Security Crisis Solution—Space Solar Power

By James Michael “Mike” Snead, PE

This paper was published in the Journal of Space Philosophy, Spring, 2014, issue. It is available in the PDF format here and here.

Note to reader: The calculations in this paper have been updated in the accompanying 2015 paper Becoming Spacefaring: America’s Path Forward in Space. One advantage for reading this paper is that it contains key quantitative information portrayed in charts.


This paper addresses the substantial energy insecurity of the United States due to its growing population and limited supplies of technically recoverable coal, oil, and natural gas. Calculations indicate that the United States will exhaust supplies of affordable fossil fuels this century. This raises a key national energy security issue of what will replace fossil fuels – in particular, what sustainable energy supplies will meet the energy needs of a US population that will likely double by 2100. Calculations show that ground solar energy would, in 2100, require over 500,000 sq. mi. of solar farms while wind energy would require 1.4 million sq. mi. of wind farms. Neither of these is seen as being environmentally or politically acceptable. Environmental and security considerations also indicate that terrestrial nuclear power is also not practicable. This leaves space solar power as the one remaining solution to this national energy security need to replace fossil fuels this century.

Keywords: United States, energy security, technically recoverable fossil fuel resources, White’s Law of Cultural Survival, standard of living, space-based power, space solar power, spacefaring, space policy

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Paper’s outline and content on each page:

  1. Abstract, keywords, and paper outline
  2. Introduction
  3. Section I – The Importance of Energy to our American Culture
    1. White’s Law provides the framework for understanding our energy security challenge
    2. America’s energy security challenge is to meet out children’s energy needs
  4. Section II – Forecasting America’s Energy Needs in 2100
    1. America’s population will likely more than double by 2100
    2. Per White’s Law, American culture is quantitatively defined by its per capita energy use
    3. Despite 30 years of intense emphasis on conservation, American’s per capita energy use has only very modestly declined
    4. U..S per capita energy need in 2100 is for cast to be 50 BOE/yr
    5. The United States will need about 31 billion BOE annually by 2100 to maintain its standard of living
    6. From 2011–2100, the United States will need a secure supply of 2.23 trillion BOE
  5. Section III – How Long Will Fossil Fuels Continue to Sustain America’s Energy Needs
    1. Terminology is important in understanding the U.S. endowment of useable fossil fuel resources
    2. The U.S. fossil fuel endowment is about 1.4 trillion BOE
    3. The U.S. fossil fuel endowment is far less than needed to remain energy secure through 2100
  6. Section IV – Defining a Rational Path Forward to Achieve Energy Security
  7. Section V – A Short tutorial on the Power Unit of the 21st Century—The Gigawatt
    1. Power and energy are not the same
    2. Units of power and energy step up and down by increments of 1000
  8. Section VI – Assessing a Hypothetical All-Nuclear Energy Infrastructure for 2100
    1. If using only nuclear energy, the United States will need 6,500 1-GW plants operating by 2100
    2. Expanded conventional nuclear fission is not a solution for 2100
  9. Section VII – Assessing Ground=Based Solar Energy and Wind for Meeting U.S. 2100 Energy Needs
    1. The 14 MW Nellis Air Force Base Solar Farm is Used as a Baseline for Evaluating the Potential of Ground Solar Energy
    2. To meet U.S. 2100 energy needs with ground solar energy would require about 521,000 sq. mi. of solar farms
    3. To meet the U.S. 2100 energy needs with wind-electricity woudl require 1.4 million sq. mi. of wind farms
    4. Neither ground-solar not wind power provide practical solutions for meeting U.S. 2100 energy needs
  10. Section VIII – The Energy Security Dilemma Facing the United States is Serious
    1. What would have happened had American not had fossil fuel resources?
    2. When Japan faced this choice, it led to war
    3. The development of America’s fossil fuel industry shows that substantial change can occur, but this takes time
  11. Section XI – Space Solar Power is America’s Unavoidable Energy Future
    1. About 50,000 sq. mi. of land would enable the United States to use space solar power
    2. A spacefaring industrial revolution is needed to undertake space-based solar power
  12. Section X – If Only the Titanic Had 30 Seconds More of Warning
  13. About the Author
  14. Editor’s Notes
  15. References and footnotes