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I am curious. If you were to put a solar panel up in high altitude or on the surface of the moon, both of which have much less atmosphere to reflect/refract light, would that solar panel produce more energy?

I am curious because an article comments discussion got me thinking about setting up a low Earth orbit solar collection platform as a power plant for a city or nation. Then I got thinking about how to bring it down to the surface (the energy that is). Which had me thinking about using really long cables stretched from the satellite to a high-altitude dirigible platform that would then allow it to more easily bring the energy to our planets surface.

From there I started wondering if the high altitude dirigible platform would instead be up high enough to garner any added energy collection benefits. It would certainly help with space saving on the ground and could be rather quickly moved into a disaster area for emergency power purposes. Being a dirigible it would also be relatively easy to keep it aloft. With it far above the clouds it should be able to avoid many weather issues as well (as far as I am aware).

So does anyone know if there would be any added benefits from solar collection in a thinner atmosphere environment from a power generation perspective? What pitfalls can you think of? The biggest one I can think of is the efficient transport of the energy.

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Other downsides: A solar plant in the atmosphere will throw a shadow over land area, that is unwanted. A cable with length several kilometers, hanging in the air as you mention, will break under its own weight. –  Bernhard Jan 31 '12 at 7:12
    
    
@Bernhard while this is true for the lower altitudes I think that the effect at much higher altitudes would be minimal at best. –  pthurmond Jan 31 '12 at 15:25

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I would guess there is not much gain compared to solar power generation at the sea level in fair weather, when about 10-15% of solar energy is absorbed in the atmosphere (http://enso.larc.nasa.gov/arm/pub/journals/Valero.etal.JGR00.pdf ), but there can be significant gain compared to generation at sea level in cloudy weather. My bet would be against any exotic platforms that you describe - power delivery from the platform, even where feasible, would result in heavy losses and high costs, but I may be mistaken.

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There is a real problem operating equipement at high altitude , such as observatories in the Chilean high deserts and in Antarctica (> 15000ft) - UV radiation destroys most plastics very quickly. I don't know what it would do to silicon solar panels but making anything else work there is a real pain

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I can't imagine the problem for panels being much of a big deal since most satellites use them as a source of power and last for decades. –  pthurmond Feb 13 at 15:50

There would be real problems if as you said " run a really long wire from the array to the ground" if you did that you would have alot of voltage drop. There is a significant voltage drop even for a run of wire of 100 ft. But if you put a pv system on say a mountain top with few sun obstructions and gathered the power there. But you would have to live near the site as well. Unless your array produced twice what you need and live with the voltage drop. If you harvested say 1000 volts and had a run of 400 ft look at the size of wire and get the resistance of that wire "nec manual" then use this formula, 2lir ÷1000 whis means 2×length×current×resistance÷1000. And that will tell you your voltage drop.

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Would there be a way to minimize those voltage drops over large distances? Different materials? Maybe a room temperature super-conductor? –  pthurmond Feb 13 at 15:34

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