Renewable Energy: Is Space-based Solar On the Horizon?
Solar panel installations are some of the most environmentally-friendly sources of energy. They have zero emissions, making them sustainable for humans on Earth and possibly in space. Yes, that’s right. Solar panels could make it to space because agencies like the European Space Agency (ESA) are planning to launch space-based solar power in the future.
ESA isn’t the only organization interested in solar panels in space either. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has also shown interest in building solar panels in space. Though the idea of space-based solar panels is not yet a reality, involvement by NASA and ESA could mean space-based solar panels aren’t far away. What would it take to harness this inexhaustible source of energy?
How Does Space-based Solar Power Work?
Energy-transmitting spacecraft built with photovoltaic cells absorb continuous, high-intensity radiation from the sun by reflecting massive volumes of that radiation onto minute solar collectors using giant mirrors. Then, in a safe and controlled manner, this radiation is wirelessly delivered to Earth as either a microwave or laser beam.
When delivered to Earth, the laser beam bearing solar radiation from space is transformed into electricity by a ground antenna known as a rectenna before being sent to the power grid. This could replace other energy sources like fossil fuels, leading to a sustainable environment.
Engineers believe space-based solar power may be a realistic approach to harnessing solar energy. They claim it might be more effective than installing solar panels on the ground. Since solar panels in space will not be affected by environmental factors, like weather, they are theoretically more efficient than conventional solar panels on Earth.
Sending solar radiation down to Earth from space seems scary, but it will be built so its energy density differs from the effect of standing in direct sunlight.
When Would Space-based Solar Panels Be Available on Earth?
Although no country has launched solar panels in space, interest in this technology is growing worldwide, including in Europe and America. In 2028, China intends to conduct solar power testing in a low-Earth orbit lower than geostationary orbit. By 2030, several other countries like Japan and South Korea will have joined the race to build solar panels in space.
Governments aren’t the only ones interested in building solar panels in space. Companies are also interested in making this innovation a reality. Space companies are partnering with aerospace manufacturers to bring a number of innovations to market, including space-based solar panels. Solar manufacturers are also taking strides to launch panels into space.
How Solar Panels In Space Will Benefit Humans
In addition to enabling a sustainable environment where there would be zero emissions from fossil fuels, space-based solar panels will serve a lot of benefits.
The constant availability of sunlight means it will not become scarce at any time. Like existing solar panels, people will save a significant amount of money by capturing renewable energy and putting it to use.
Another benefit of solar panels in space is the energy generated is from a closer, higher-intensity source, which gives it a greater capacity than existing systems. Space-based solar could provide up to 1 GW (gigawatt) of energy – enough to power a big city.
Once space-based solar panels are launched, more people will be needed to install solar to make them available for use. Already, there has been a 167% employment increase in the solar industry in less than 10 years. With space-based solar panels, that number is set to increase further.
Space-based solar power will be able to provide a continuous, uninterrupted electricity supply. Electricity is an essential part of manufacturing, distribution, health care, transportation and countless other industries. Everyone on Earth could benefit greatly from solar panels in space.
The Future of Space-based Solar Power
Space-based solar power systems could produce and store vastly more energy than we currently have access to. As a result, people could use stored renewable energy even after the sun goes down at night. From creating more employment opportunities to lowering electricity bills and enabling a sustainable environment, the world is set to benefit greatly from solar panels in space.
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