Here comes the sun: space-based solar power is on the horizon
Space-based solar power (SBSP) is edging closer to becoming a reality and, in the long term, could help complete the transition to green energy sources.
The idea of lasers in the sky was the exclusive domain of science fiction novels or scheming James Bond villains. Now it is becoming a reality, and, unlike the movies, it can be used as a force for good, helping tackle some of the most pressing challenges facing the world.
In its Tech, Media and Telecom (TMT) Predictions 2021 report, GlobalData identified sustainability as a key theme for 2021.
Transitioning to clean sources of energy is perhaps the most pressing item on the agenda to limit global warming to the 1.5 °C target set by the Paris Agreement. The energy sector is the world’s number one pollutant, accounting for over 30% of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, according to the Centre for Climate and Energy Solutions.
SBSP could be a solution to the energy problem. As GlobalData predicts in its report, Earth-facing activities in space will experience significant growth in the next decade, increasingly affecting our everyday lives and contributing to solving complex challenges.
Use of satellite based solar reflectors
But how would energy from space be collected? The optimum solution is using huge mirror-like solar reflectors installed on satellites in orbit which will concentrate energy from the sun onto solar panels. These, in turn, turn the energy into electromagnetic radiation which is beamed back to Earth in either laser or microwave form by an antenna. Finally, a rectifying antenna on the ground collects the waves or electromagnetic radiations from lasers and converts them back into electricity to be distributed to the grid.
This technology has several advantages over normal solar power. Firstly, it eliminates downtime due to bad weather and nighttime. In an average winter month in Europe, only 3% of sunlight reaches Earth, while satellites in space could gather energy for 99% of the year.