A Solar Power Plant in Space: Jovana Radulovic, a researcher in mechanical engineering and specialist in renewable energy systems, talks about it on The Conversation. In fact, the ideas of systems for obtaining solar energy through structures in space, in most cases the ideas of stations orbiting the Earth, are not very new because the advantages will not be few and have been proposed by scientists many times in the past. Obviously, there are technological limits, and right now, there are also cost limits.
As Radulovic herself stated, the UK government is considering such a proposal, which could cost about 16 billion pounds.
A system that gains solar energy directly in space can be powered by a satellite or spacecraft with lots of solar panels. Once they get sunlight, these panels generate electricity that is transmitted, naturally, wirelessly to the ground.
Acquisition would be via ground antennas (called rectennas) which would essentially acquire radio waves which would be converted back into electricity which would then be fed into the terrestrial electrical grid.
Main feature: light acquired around the clock
The researcher explains that recent developments in the technological field, especially in the solar energy sector, make this idea less and less science fiction.
The main advantage lies in the fact that the solar power plant will be illuminated by the sun practically 24 hours a day.
It will cost a lot to move the panels
The disadvantages are not only technical, but also related to costs. Simply moving the board’s elements into orbit in space would consume most of the cost. However, more and more lightweight solar cells have been developed over the past few years. Further progress has also been made in wireless energy transmission (although over long distances, with current wireless technologies, only a fraction of the total energy will reach Earth) and in space robotics in general.
Space robots and reusable rockets
This last feature, in particular, will allow solar panels to be installed directly in space, making them easier to transport by rockets. In this regard, reusable launch systems, such as SpaceX’s, will save even more money.
space debris problem
Other difficulties, according to the researcher, lie in the fact that solar panels can be damaged rather easily, and possibly irreparable, by space debris as well as small rocks orbiting our planet by the millions at a very high speed. At such speeds, even a pebble can damage the solar panels.
The project has been evaluated by the United Kingdom
Going back to the project being evaluated in the UK, it involves building a solar plant with a diameter of 1.7 kilometers (weighing about 2,000 tons). The antenna system on Earth would be quite large and would occupy an area of several square kilometers. The project involves building a space station that can supply up to 2 GW of power to the UK (UK electricity generation capacity is currently around 76 GW).
The return on investment will be slow and therefore public as well as private resources will be required. However, it is hoped that as technologies related to solar energy and the space sector advance, the costs themselves will fall further.
Notes and insights
- space solar energy (UK project under evaluation report, PDF)
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