Space-based solar power has been an idea that has been around for decades, but it is only in recent years that it has started to gain traction as a viable means of generating large amounts of clean energy. And now, the UK government has taken a major step towards making it a reality by providing £4.3m in funding to a range of organisations to develop the technology.
The funding comes from the government’s space-based solar power innovation competition, which aims to support the development of new technologies that can help harness the power of the sun and deliver it to Earth. Among the recipients of the funding are Cambridge University, which is developing ultra-lightweight solar panels that can withstand the high radiation levels encountered in space, and Queen Mary University of London, which is developing a wireless system to allow space-harvested solar power to be safely beamed to Earth.
This is a significant development in the field of space-based solar power, which until recently has been largely regarded as a niche area of research. But as the world seeks to transition to clean energy sources and reduce its carbon footprint, space-based solar power is increasingly being seen as a potentially game-changing technology.
The idea behind space-based solar power is fairly simple: instead of placing solar panels on the ground, they are placed in orbit around the Earth. Because there is no atmosphere in space, the sun’s light is undiluted, meaning each panel would be able to generate more energy compared with an equivalent panel on Earth. The solar energy would also be more predictable and continuous due to the absence of day-night cycles, cloud cover and seasonal variations in sunlight.
Assuming that the technology can be made to work on a large scale, there would be some significant advantages to space-based solar farms. They could generate vast amounts of clean energy, helping to reduce the world’s reliance on fossil fuels and combatting climate change. They could also provide a solution to the problem of energy storage, which is one of the biggest challenges facing renewable energy today. By beaming the energy generated in space to Earth, it could be stored and distributed to where it is needed, helping to smooth out fluctuations in supply and demand.
But developing space-based solar power is not without its challenges. One of the biggest obstacles is the cost of launching the infrastructure into space. The materials and technology needed to build solar panels that can withstand the harsh conditions of space are also more expensive than those used for ground-based panels.
Another challenge is the safety and reliability of the technology. Beaming energy from space to Earth requires a wireless transmission system that is both efficient and safe. There are concerns that the microwave beams used to transfer the energy could be harmful to people and the environment. There are also concerns about the potential impact of space debris and other hazards that could damage or disable the infrastructure in space.
Despite these challenges, the potential benefits of space-based solar power are so significant that governments and private companies around the world are investing in research and development. In the US, NASA has been researching space-based solar power since the 1970s, and the agency recently launched a project to explore the feasibility of using the technology to power deep space missions. In China, the government has announced plans to launch a space-based solar power station by 2035. And in Europe, the European Space Agency is exploring the potential of using space-based solar power to help meet the continent’s energy needs.
The UK is now joining this growing list of countries investing in space-based solar power. The government’s decision to fund research and development in this area is a clear indication of its commitment to clean energy and its recognition of the potential of space-based solar power to help meet the country’s energy needs. These innovations could lead to the creation of commercial power stations in space, generating up to 10GW of electricity a year by 2050. In addition to technology development, the funding will also support studies to assess how electricity from space-based power stations can be integrated into the electricity grid alongside other low-carbon energy sources.
The funding will enable UK researchers to develop new technologies that can help make space-based solar power a reality. Cambridge University’s work on ultra-lightweight solar panels is particularly promising, as it could help to reduce the cost of launching the infrastructure into space. Queen Mary University of London’s wireless transmission system is also a key development, as it could help to ensure the safe and efficient transfer of energy from space to Earth.
But the UK’s investment in space-based solar power is not just about developing new technologies. It is also about creating a new industry that can help drive economic growth and create jobs. The Department for Energy Security and Net Zero has claimed that space-based solar power could create a multibillion-pound industry and up to 143,000 jobs across the country.
There is no doubt that space-based solar power is still in its early stages of development, and there are many challenges that need to be overcome before it can become a reality. But with the UK government now backing the development of the technology, we are one step closer to a future where clean, limitless energy is beamed down to Earth from the sun. And that is an exciting prospect that we should all be looking forward to.
Source: The Guardian