(ORDO NEWS) — Solar energy production has become much cheaper and more efficient in recent years, but no matter how advanced technology has advanced, fundamental limitations will always remain.
For example, solar panels can only generate power during the daytime, clouds often get in the way, and most of the sunlight is absorbed by the atmosphere.
What if we could collect solar energy in space and send it to the surface?
On average, sunlight in the upper atmosphere is more than 10 times more intense than on the Earth‘s surface.
And in a high enough orbit, sunlight will be available continuously. It can be captured and transmitted to receiving stations all over the planet.
The energy will be transmitted wirelessly, making it possible to transmit it to a receiving station where it is needed, even to the Moon or other planets.
The basic concept has been around for a long time, but the need for new clean and safe energy sources has given it new urgency.
ESA plans to explore the key technologies needed to turn space-based solar power into a functional reality through its SOLARIS program.
One such technology, wireless power transmission, was recently demonstrated in Germany at the innovative Airbus X-Works plant in Munich.
Using microwave beams, green energy was transmitted between two points representing “Space” and “Earth” at a distance of 36 meters.
The resulting energy was used to light up a model city and produce green hydrogen by splitting water.
For a functional version of the space-based solar power system, solar-powered satellites operating in geostationary orbit will continuously collect sunlight 24/7 and then convert it into low power-density microwaves for safe transmission to stations.
The biggest problem is that to generate an optimal and economically viable level of solar energy, the required structures must be very large both on Earth and in space.
A single satellite in geostationary orbit can be more than a kilometer wide, while a ground receiving station would require an area more than ten times that.
Achieving this goal will require technical advances in areas such as space manufacturing and robotic assembly, low-cost and high-efficiency photovoltaic systems, high-power electronics, and RF beamforming.
Additional studies will also be conducted to confirm the beneficial effects of low-power microwaves on human and animal health, as well as compatibility with aircraft and satellites.
But global startup costs continue to drop, making such construction economically viable, and the end result will be a continuously available source of clean energy.
One solar-powered satellite of the planned scale will generate about 2 gigawatts of power, the equivalent of a conventional nuclear power plant capable of powering more than a million homes.
To generate the same amount of energy would require more than six million solar panels on the Earth’s surface.
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