Space-age solar power

Could a solar power station in space be a viable form on energy production? The UK government plans to answer this question with newly commissioned into space-based solar power systems (SBSP).

In short, the technology would consist of huge solar panels being assembled in space, carried there in part by rockets and assembled by a fleet of robotic workers. Once assembled and functional, the power station would start converting solar power into high-frequency radio waves that can then be safely beamed by to ground and connected to the grid.

To say these stations are huge is an understatement, with some estimates pushing them to 1700m in height; the stations would be a monumental national or international project. The size needed to make the stations efficient, however, is also their primary limiting factors. Assemblies of this magnitude have never been performed in space.

The emergence of private space travel in the last five years has helped lend the endeavour some credibility; previously it was simply not cost efficient to send things to space.

The golden appeal of space-bases solar power stations is the eternal sunshine of space. The sun never sets in space, so the station would generate power all day, year-round. And, although the challenge of getting it the space remains high, once there the station is not limited by the same special restraints it might be here on Earth. Stations have the potential to be truly gargantuan structures with the capacity to generate massive amounts of power.

Let’s hope the research proves fruitful; to unshackle the Earth of its power-generating burden would surely only benefit all those who live on it. Though I’m sure my great grand kids’ grandkids will be woke enough to criticise mankind for excessively littering space, at least for now outsourcing our problems to the great beyond does seem a mindful solution to some of the Earth’s more pressing issues.

What other opportunities for prosperity could lay outside of our atmosphere? Asteroid mining, space transportation and cargo, space bases, space manufacturing, and increased probing and monitoring satellites are but a few of the ideas currently floating around. How could the next space race impact your company?

The Sun never sets in space, so a space solar power system could supply renewable energy to anywhere on the planet, day or night, rain or shine. It is an idea that has existed for decades, but has always felt decades away.

By Oli Hoade on 26/11/2020