When you think of Siemens, you might think of everything from generators to LED screens to one of the big-name sponsors behind PBS programming—but start thinking in terms of Martian habitats.
Joining the race to Mars right behind Tesla and SpaceX mogul Elon Musk is the industrial manufacturing monolith, whose experience in generating energy could possibly power a human colony on a planet that would otherwise be perilous to our survival. Sunlight that filters through the reddish dust in what could pass for an atmosphere can be harnessed by solar panels. The same wind that obliterated most of its atmosphere can be the force behind sustaining human life. Mars may be devoid of water and oxygen, but it has no shortage of potential energy.
"Mars will be the ultimate microgrid," claims the company’s website. "With no centralized power sources, communities will one day rely on decentralized energy systems."
Siemens’ future Martian technology was inspired by something much closer to Earth. When the people of the Aboriginal Wiyot reservation north of San Francisco recently experienced glitches in power due to interferences from the Pacific Gas & Electric power grid, Siemens joined forces with them to devise a method to fuel the reservation that would be both reliable and environmentally conscious. The microgrid that was the brainchild of this thinking runs on a 500-kilowatt array of REC Solar solar panels and a Tesla battery storage system, among other instruments. Maintenance is overseen through a computerized management system that determines where power resources are best used.
The best part? Power from the grid can be replaced even when it’s down.
This is the same type of technology Siemens hopes to someday use to keep a Martian colony flourishing, though requirements are bound to change on an alien planet lacking an atmosphere. Siemens Energy Management director of microgrid and renewable integration Clark Wiedetz is unsure of the variables that will make sense for Mars, but at least the microgrid is not dependent on cloud computing, which would be impossible to access 33.9 million miles from Earth. Maintenance in the Wiyot reservation is mostly overseen by the residents with some remote assistance, which is the same expected of astronauts journeying into deep space.
Tesla and SolarCity also recently installed a microgrid run by batteries and solar panels that power an entire island for three days, even with overcast skies. Considering all that dust obscuring the view on Mars, this could be one more small step toward mankind going Martian.