There’s an abundance of energy in space. All the stars in the universe – including our own sun – produce constant electromagnetic energy, but is this vast clean resource still ‘galaxies’ away from production on earth? Northern Powergrid investigates.
Space-based energy isn’t a new concept, but recent advances make it a much more accessible option – and it could be one of the best green solutions to our pressing energy needs.
What is space-based energy?
It’s a sustainable source of energy thanks to technological breakthroughs like ultra-light solar cells.
Using solar panels, energy is collected via reflectors and mirrors installed on a giant space satellite, which direct solar radiation onto panels and then wirelessly transmit it to Earth. The energy can then be converted into electricity.
Energy is generated in a clean, renewable way, regardless of the season or weather. With its ability to generate huge amounts of energy without draining natural resources, it could be a potential gamechanger in the fight against climate change.
One of its main benefits is the constant source of energy generation via the sun. Space-based solar energy is not reliant on weather and the time of day like terrestrial systems.
The global demand for energy is expected to grow by 47% before 2050, and electric connection is here to stay, so space-based energy offers a major advantage. In fact, energy from space would generate 0% greenhouse emissions, simultaneously meeting rising demand and preventing further damage to the planet.
Yet another benefit is lower land usage. With current solar energy installations, altered sun exposure can affect the local environment by blocking rainfall, which in turn affects plant growth. This is obviously not an by-product of space-based energy.
What does the future look like for space-based energy?
There is still much more progress to be made globally, with the high cost of implementing sustainable solutions presenting a major challenge. However, the future looks hopeful for space-based energy, with several countries looking into further investment.
For example, the UK government is in talks to build a space-based solar power station to help achieve the nation’s net zero target by 2050. This £16 billion project which features in the government’s Net Zero Innovation Portfolio has the potential to aid that goal.
China is already forging ahead, having tested technology in alignment with its target to install a solar power plant in space within the next decade or so. These tests are set to be independently verified in June this year.
In the US, aerospace and defence giant Northrop Grumman has partnered with the U.S Air Force Research Laboratory and the California Institute of Technology in The Space Solar Power Initiative. This $100 million project aims to develop component technologies needed for a prototype solar energy collection system, thus optimising the conversion and transmission of solar energy in space.
By 2025, Japan Space Systems, based in Tokyo, hopes to develop a space solar power system that will collect the sun’s energy and transmit it to earth via a satellite.
It seems only a matter of time before space-age solutions become a reality for energy users on earth.
Did you know?
High orbit sunlight is on average 10 times more intense than on Earth.
A single solar power satellite could generate around 2 gigawatts of power, equivalent to a normal nuclear power station.
It would be able to power over 1 million homes.
It would take more than 6 million solar panels on Earth to generate the same amount of energy.
Source: The European Space Agency.