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Don M. Flournoy, a professor of telecommunications at Ohio University, poses for a portrait in his office on November 12, 2015. 

Ohio University professor pioneer in renewable energy

Don Flournoy looks to bring first-ever Space Solar Power energy testing facility to Ohio.

An Ohio University professor is trying to bring a first-of-its-kind energy facility to Ohio.

Don Flournoy, an OU professor of media arts and studies, has proposed a testing site for a form of solar energy called Space Solar Power. The goal is to repurpose the Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant in Piketon, about 60 miles southwest of Athens, as the testing site.

“The site is intended as the first ever landing site for solar power from space to earth,” Flournoy said, adding that the site has the potential to be the most productive solar plant in the world.

“It is science fiction rapidly becoming science fact,” he said.

Flournoy has proposed areas of the Piketon site be equipped with solar panels to collect energy, then Space Solar Power satellites would reflect sunlight to Earth to collect energy 24 hours a day, rather than only when the sun is out.

Flournoy is associated with an OU project funded by a grant from the U.S. Department of Energy called PORTSfuture project, which is focused on researching possible new uses for the Piketon site, including testing Space Solar Power.

According to the project's website, the next steps for the ongoing research includes visualization of industrial applications, digital imagery of on-site conditions and ultimate end uses, detailed land cover map of the site and more.

Stephanie Howe, associate director for human services and capital operations in the Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs and who administers the grant, said OU works alongside numerous community interests and site stakeholders, such as the Southern Ohio Diversification Initiative, Department of Energy officials and others as new uses for the plant develop.

Space Solar Power is being considered for the Piketon site because of Flournoy’s proposal to the National Science Foundation, with backing from the Department of Energy, Flournoy said.

Flournoy has been interested in and researching Space Solar Power for years, and has even written books on the subject.  

“He is one of the leading experts in the space solar field and the largest advocate,” Howe said.

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Flournoy and other advocates of Space Solar Power believe that foreseeable energy shortages and climate changes because of the burning of fossil fuels could lead to a future global crisis.

Flournoy said he estimates if just 100 acres at the Piketon plant were claimed for Space Solar Power receivers, the energy provided by satellites “could probably serve a community as large as Columbus.”

Wesley Hemmelgarn, a senior studying integrated media who is familiar with Flournoy’s research, said in an email it’s concerning that Space Solar Power has yet to be implemented.

“I’m very much in support of funding research and science exploration in general but even more so in the context of space-based solar power because we need it so badly,” Hemmelgarn said in an email.

Flournoy said an energy crisis has “multiple dimensions,” some of which are worrisome, yet still others that he is optimistic about. On one hand, Flournoy said, the world may have waited too long to wean off fossil fuels as a main source of energy, but Flournoy added that he is optimistic that nations all over the globe will collaborate for a common goal when the time is necessary.  

“This energy crisis is also a food crisis, a water crisis and a security crisis,” he said. “Human beings are extraordinarily innovative when we have a mission to work toward.”


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