India has the second largest population of any country on Earth. The Indian agricultural sector is large and robust, but features several weaknesses that prevent it from reaching maximum efficiency. Crop storage is a huge issue, with tons of quality produce lingering on the vine because there is no effective way to store and preserve them. Worst of all, because this limitation is well known, when crops are in season, prices are very low, while only weeks after the season ends, prices climb very quickly. Not only does this deprive farmers of potential earnings at peak harvest, it also prices the poor out of the produce market as the peak season ends.
We propose a pilot program in the rural areas of India that would bring a 12-month growing cycle for agriculture, water for irrigation and, most importantly, a large refrigeration system for agricultural produce preservation. Energy from space also provides such secondary benefits as community storage of medical supplies. Using space-based solar power, satellites would absorb the sun’s rays where they are most direct and transmit them as energy to receiving antennas or “rectenna” sites. This solution allows Indian officials to direct electricity to locations that currently have no electrical service or are underserved due to geographic limitations.
We envision a 4 km2 rectenna in size that can convert microwave energy from space into terrestrial power. The rectenna could generate about 250 megawatts of electrical production, enough power for the surrounding communities. Rectennas can be constructed from materials as mundane as wire mesh. Temperature can increase at rectenna sites but can be managed by widening or narrowing the energy beam as transmitted via satellite. By sustaining a constant temperature, year-round growing cycles can be implemented.
Once the rectenna is operational a large one-ton cooler would be installed. This cooler would be used to keep farm produce refrigerated, allowing the farming community to better manage the flow of produce into regional markets. Storage can be reserved for other applications such as meeting local needs in the communities served. Medical supplies, for instance, could be stored in order to meet vaccination needs.
Secondarily, deep water wells could be drilled and used in conjunction with new irrigation channels to distribute water to parched areas. Water towers could be erected, too, that could be filled by the wells and used in lieu of batteries for power storage, that is, water allowed to seep from tanks could generate power for the refrigeration unit while the satellite directs its transmission to alternate sites.
The ability of a single satellite to power multiple locations is a major benefit and cost-saving measure. As the Indian government has its own space program, launching of appropriately equipped satellites is within reason. A pilot program could be implemented quickly if the government perceived a need.
India is not the only country for which this space-based solution is applicable. Nigeria, while featuring a climate well suited to agricultural uses, is also badly in need of a storage solution for agricultural produce. China’s farmers could be empowered to better feed themselves and their neighbors while reducing the country’s need for imports. The effects of Russia’s devastating wildfires in 2010 could have been mollified if their earlier harvests had a longer storage life.
As the global population continues to increase, now is the time to begin implementing such alternative energy solutions as space-based solar power.
Our Ohio University team specifically tailored this proposal for India. India’s government is forward-thinking, possesses a strong sense of social justice, and has the technical knowledge and capability to make a project like this a reality. India is well aware of its problem with food storage and is well-positioned to be a global leader in innovative solutions for sustainable food production.
Examples of this need follow.
In 2008, it was revealed that the Food Corporation of India had spoilage of 1.3 million tons of food grain. Activist Dev Ashish Bhattacharya stated, “This amount of food grain could have fed over 10 million people in a year.”
In 2011, the Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion (DIPP) stated that 57% of the Rs. 1 trillion in food loss is directly attributable to food waste and problems with food storage. DIPP also reported that with a production of fruits and vegetables that reaches 180 million metric tons, there is storage for only 23.6 million metric tons, and of that, 80% of that storage is used for potatoes.
Installation of cold storage units cost about US $24,000. But without a means to power these units in rural locations, this isn’t a realistic option. Space-based solar power provides a long-term solution that can help amortize the electrical costs of these facilities over the entire country instead of on a community-by-community basis.