Experts are saying that a solar power station in space would provide all of the energy needed around the world. While on the surface of the Earth, society still struggles to adopt solar energy solutions, many scientists maintain that giant, space-based solar farms could provide an environmentally-friendly answer to the world’s energy crisis.
“Above the Earth, there’s no day and night cycle and no clouds or weather or anything else that might obstruct the sun’s ray, so a constant power source is available,” said Ali Hajimiri, professor of electrical engineering at the California Institute of Technology and co-director of the university’s Space Solar Power Project.
Global energy demands are only going to grow, says Hajimiri. The global population is expected to reach a staggering 9.6 billion by 2050, according to a United Nations report, so methods of generating large quantities of clean energy must be found. A space-based solar power system could provide energy to everyone, even in places that don’t receive sunlight all year round, like northern Europe and Russia.
One of the biggest issues to overcome is that of getting an array of solar panels large enough to make the project viable into orbit.
However, with SpaceX and Blue Origin slowly driving the cost of orbital delivery down, suddenly the concept seems a little closer to reality.
This completed array would orbit about 22,000 miles above the Earth and “beam” the energy back down to the surface. The photovoltaic array converts the sunlight into electricity, which in turn is converted into RF electrical power (microwaves) that are beamed wirelessly to ground-based receivers. These would take the form of giant wire nets measuring up to four miles across that could be installed across deserts or farmland or even over lakes.
A solar facility like this could generate a constant flow of 2,000 gigawatts of power, Mankins estimates, compared to the largest solar farm that exists today in Aswan, southern Egypt, that only generates in the region of 1.8 gigawatts.