Space-based Solar Power (SBSP) is a concept that’s been around since the 1970’s, but due to the large payload that’s needed to launch it into space, it’s never been done. But, the current power crisis calls for something to be done as even in countries like India where there are sunlight 365 days a year, it’s still only there for part of the day.
What makes SBSP so great is that in outer space, there’s virtually no night time so their efficiency is second to none. The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) is one organization that’s been actively working on developing this technology and has created a 25-year roadmap that plans to have an orbital solar farm in place, sending as much as 1 gigawatt of power back to the Earth, by the 2030’s. However, they are faced with the same payload issue and have estimated that to generate just one gigawatt of power a solar collector weighing at least 10,000 metric tons would be needed.
The next issue to get over lies in getting the power back down to Earth as no cable can be used to do this. Suggestions have been made by the Japanese to introduce some kind of space elevator that would make use of carbon nano-tubes to transmit power back, but the whole idea is even further away from reality than SBSP. Microwaves are another idea that’s been mentioned when it comes to getting power back to Earth and in 2015 JAXA successfully transmitted 1.8 kilowatts over a distance of 55 meters, using microwaves. Efficiency is high while losses in transmissions remain low.
This method of beaming energy could be used in other applications too. Mitsubishi has already announced how it intends to use it to transmit power to electric vehicle charging in the future. It could also be used in generating and distributing power, reducing the need for high-tension power cables. As a result, we’d see a much more efficient grid, resulting in cheaper more reliable electricity supply. Now that we’ve got the ideas, we just need to make it happen.
- The idea of solar panels circling Earth and beaming down power is gaining traction / IEEE Spectrum
- Japanese scientists make breakthrough in wireless energy transmission / The Japan Times
- Beam it Down, Scotty! / NASA
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