Isaac Asimov described the first space based solar panels transmitting solar energy back to earth in his 1941 sci-fi novel Reason. With the renewable energy industry continuing its hectic growth, a number of companies around the globe are looking to beam power back to earth from solar energy panels launched into space.
Gary Spirnak, CEO of Solaren, presented a “Concept Definition Study” to Pacific Gas and Electric in 2009 and PG&E believed his plan was viable. A 439-page study “Earth & Space-Based Power Generation Systems a Comparison Study” published by the European Space Agency (ESA) provides great detail on the subject.
According to some scientists, the inaccessibility of space and the distance, estimated at 22,000 miles, between Earth and the proposed solar panels, make it important that breakthroughs in telerobotics are made so that space-based solar panels can be serviced by robots controlled from earth via wireless signals.
Researchers estimate that lightweight designs of space solar panels could produce 1 kW per kilogram, thus requiring 4,000 metric tons of solar panels to produce 4 gigawatts of power. Energy captured in space-based solar panels would be transmitted back to Earth based antennas wirelessly.
The International Space Station (ISS) cost over $100 billion to build, so the prospect of space based solar energy depends entirely on the development of lightweight materials and cheaper launch systems. According to scientists studying the technology, it could become viable by 2025, when the current technologies have matured enough. Notably, Japan has announced a plan to create a space based solar array.
The following is a TED presentation by Peter Sage of Space Energy, Inc. explains why space-based solar power will soon become the earth’s main energy source in coming years
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References and related links:
- How Japan Plans to Build an Orbital Solar Farm – IEEE Spectrum
- How space-based solar power will solve all our energy needs
- PowerSat | Space Solar Power