Sustainability-in-Tech : Prototype Means Solar Farms In Space Getting Closer

Oxfordshire-based Space Solar has reported a world first with the development of a UK Prototype for space-based solar panels that could mean a constant, sustainable energy supply to the planet.

Solar Farms In Space 

Space Solar’s plan is to be able to power more than a million homes by the 2030s using a mile-wide complex of mirrors and solar panels – a solar farm – orbiting 22,000 miles above Earth.

Panels Must Rotate Towards The Sun 

For the space-based solar farm to work effectively, the panels must be able to rotate towards the sun whatever its position, while still sending power to a fixed receiver on the ground. It is this ability that has just been shown to work for the first time at Queen’s University Belfast, in a prototype that used a wireless beam “steered” across a lab to turn on a light. Space Solar has called its super-efficient design for harvesting constant sunlight CASSIOPei.

The Ultimate Form of Clean Energy 

Space Solar says that space-based solar power will be the ultimate form of clean dependable energy because it will deliver a constant, 24/7 clean source of power from space that’s unaffected by the weather, seasons, or time of day.

Other Benefits 

Some of the many other benefits of space-based solar highlighted by the company include:

– It is dispatchable, modulating the output and integrating well with intermittent wind and terrestrial solar.

– Solar panels in space capture 13 times more energy than ground-based ones due to higher light intensity and the lack of atmosphere, clouds … or night!

– It has a low environmental impact with respect to land usage, carbon footprint and mineral resources.

– The technology is very flexible, e.g. it can export energy to other co-operating nations without the need for an expensive fixed infrastructure such as underwater power cables.

– It can be switched rapidly to power green Hydrogen generation or water desalination plants, as well as providing electricity into the grid.

Challenge – 68 Space Flights 

Although the prototype has been developed successfully, there are still some major challenges ahead for Space Solar, not least the estimated 68 space flights that are likely to be needed to get the parts into orbit that could then be assembled by robots into a working space power station.

What Does This Mean For Your Organisation? 

Major challenges such as tackling global warming, decarbonising the energy sector to meet targets, keeping up with a growing electricity demand, and finding a more dependable, flexible, and sustainable source of energy have required some innovative thinking. Having solar farms in space where they can provide 24/7 clean, natural energy, therefore, sounds as though it could be one of several options with real promise.

The development of the right kind of solar panel to help achieve this should be celebrated as one important step forward in achieving Space Solar’s vision. There are, however, some arguably much bigger challenges to overcome, including getting the kit into space using almost 70 flights and getting robots to successfully put it all together whilst in orbit. Also, the target of getting it all up and running by the 2030s sounds ambitious, although it needs to be ambitious to tackle our pressing climate and energy challenges. Having a constant, dependable, clean power source beamed from space could be of huge benefit for countries and economies around the world and could help solve the issue of trying to get power to areas where the geography would have prevented this before.

Also, the fact that the technology can be used to power green Hydrogen generation or water desalination plants may also help with this global evening-up of opportunities, helping the world to tackle its main challenges much more quickly and effectively than ever before.