China has announced its ambitious future plans to send solar to outer space. This would be the first time that anything like this has been attempted. The country is hoping to put its plans into action by 2050.
Space is the perfect environment to harness the full potential of the sun’s power. As the sun is always shining in space, it is the most reliable place for solar. This will be an expensive mission for china to complete as just getting the technology into space is no mean feat and could be expensive to develop.
This kind of plan has been explored before. In the 1970’s it was thought that using space for power could be a reliable renewable energy source but unfortunately the technology was not advanced enough to pass the research stage. Recently solar technology has moved forward and significant advancements have been made in both power transmissions and the PV cells themselves.
Space based solar could be the future for countries that don’t have the benefit of regular sunshine, and with the need for renewables ever growing along with the population and demand for power in general, this could be the answer to the growing demand for clean power.
It is not clear how China plan to carry out their future plans, but one theory is that they could launch a few solar satellites that could then join up in space to create one large cone shaped satellite covered in solar panels. The solar panels will collect the energy from the sun and via microwaves, send it back to the ground to be used. The receivers on the ground will be in the form of giant nets that could be placed in remote places such as lakes and farmland. The estimated amount of power from these space solar farms would be around 2,000gw, which is phenomenally more power than that of the largest solar farm.
Of course, it is not as simple as just sending the panels off to space. Many things need to be tested and researched including the problem of the weight of the solar panels whilst maintaining their efficiency. They have recently tested new photovoltaic cells that are much lighter than average, and while they have proved to be effective in collecting and transmitting the solar power, they still need to reduce the weight if they are to be used in space.
It is unknown how much the project will cost over all. John Mankins a physicist said he expects the figure to be around $150million. Mankins supports the space project saying:
“Ground-based solar is a wonderful thing, and we’ll always have ground-based solar,” he said. “For a lot of locations, rooftop solar is fabulous, but a lot of the world is not like Arizona. Millions of people live where large, ground-based solar arrays are not economical.”