Solar energy could be transmitted wirelessly from space as part of new plans to solve the UK’s long-term energy crisis.
Later this month, Airbus will host a technology showcase to demonstrate that solar energy can be safely transported through the air, over a distance of approximately 130 feet.
The company is already working alongside the UK government and the National Grid as part of the UK’s Space Energy Initiative (SEI), launched last year to explore the possibility of space-based energy.
The demonstration is hoped to persuade governments to invest in vast solar panels in space, which could open up a new era of green energy where vast solar parks in space could be built and energy transmitted directly to Earth.
Dr Paul Bate, the head of the UK’s space agency, told the Telegraph that space-based solar power could help Britain build a secure energy supply that isn’t dependent on unstable states like Russia.
“As far as energy security is concerned, it is only a matter of time before we harness the power of the sun,” he said.
“With space solar energy we already have experience in the UK and we already have a demonstrator in space, at the International Space Station (ISS), showing how we can harness a coherent base load of energy that is safe and renewable.
“So some things we can already do and other things are long-term investments over the next 10, 20 and 30 years. We now have solar energy experts in space in Britain and other countries involved, so I think it’s something that Britain will benefit from. ”
Cosmic solar power plants by 2040
Solar energy has been on the drawing board since the 1970s, but is now being taken seriously, as countries scramble to find new reliable energy sources amid continuing tensions on Russian pipelines and a desire to achieve Net Zero.
Recent advances in space launch technology mean that it is finally convenient to transport the panels into space.
A report released last month by engineering consultancy Frazer Nash and London Economics found that a space solar power plant could be online by 2040 or sooner, producing 800 TWh annually with an investment of around £ 21 billion. same price as a nuclear power plant.
The group estimates it would provide energy at £ 59 per MWh, similar to other renewable technologies.
Solar panels in space can produce up to 40 times the amount of energy than on Earth because sunlight is not reflected or absorbed by the atmosphere. They can also be positioned to avoid any night, which means that the energy production would be continuous.
The energy from a solar park would be channeled into a harvesting satellite that could convert it into high-frequency radio waves and transmitted to a rectifying antenna (known as a rectenna) on earth.
“Economically competitive” space-based power
The Telegraph understands that Germany, in particular, is keen to invest in space solar due to its heavy reliance on the Russian Nord Stream 1 pipeline.
The Airbus demonstration will take place in Munich on 27 September and members of the British Space Agency and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) will closely observe the results.
Last year, BEIS also commissioned Frazer Nash to report on space solar energy which found it technically feasible, potentially economically competitive and in line with UK government priorities.
The group said an orbital demonstrator could be installed by 2031 with an operating system ready by 2040. The government recently released £ 3 million to promote the project.
Martin Soltau, of the Frazer-Nash Consultancy and Co-Chair, Space Energy Initiative, said the Munich event was designed to show the world that wireless solar is possible.
“Wireless power transmission is the underlying technology at the heart of space solar energy, so it is very useful to show policy makers and the public that this is a technology that exists today and for which the physical principles are well understood.
“The Munich demonstration event is all part of raising awareness of the energy sector as much as it is of the space sector.”
The European Space Agency (ESA) also recently announced that it will seek funding from European ministers in November for a space-based solar energy feasibility program – dubbed Solaris – by European ministers.
Josef Aschbacher, ESA Director General, said: “Space-based solar energy would be an important step towards carbon neutrality and energy independence for Europe.”
The program aims to determine whether transmitting solar energy to earth is feasible for Earth’s needs and says it will make a decision by 2025.
More than 50 British technology companies and government departments have joined the UK’s Space Energy Initiative, which was launched last year to explore options for space energy.
Partners include National Grid, Airbus, Cambridge University, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, Department for International Trade, Innovate UK, Imperial College London and Deloitte.
The UK’s SEI believes that transmitting energy from space could help Britain reach its Net Zero target of 2050 more effectively than current technologies.
China and the United States are also currently looking into space solar, with Xidian University recently showing that solar energy can be converted into microwaves and radiated at different distances. The group has set a 2028 goal of having a solar power plant in space.
The United States has made $ 180 million available for a solar program led by Northrop Grumman and the US Air Force Research Lab.