Can space solar panels provide the Earth with limitless energy?

Collecting solar energy in space and transmitting it wirelessly to Earth via microwaves will ensure the availability of energy, regardless of the weather or time of day, anywhere on Earth. The California Institute of Technology (Caltech) has succeeded in developing a technology capable of generating solar energy in space and transmitting it to Earth

The developed concept is based on the modular assembly of ultra-light folding integrated elements. Receiving solar energy and converting it in one element avoids the use of the distribution network. That significantly reduces the weight and complexity of the structure, which can be scalable and the failure of local elements will not affect other parts of the system.

Solar energy is ubiquitous on the Earth’s surface, but it is highly dependent on the weather, season and time of day. Even under ideal conditions, no solar panel can operate at full capacity all the time. The weather, time of day and time of year are affected. Even under ideal conditions, sunlight passing through the planet’s atmosphere loses some of its energy. A solar panel placed in orbit can receive light from the Sun continuously without decreasing its power.   At present, the efforts of researchers are aimed at developing effective methods for collecting energy, and transferring this energy to the Earth’s surface with minimal losses.

The functional prototype is 33% lighter than the previous version, having a basis weight of less than 1 kg / m 2 . It combines photovoltaic cells that collect sunlight, converting it into electrical energy and transmitting it via microwaves over a beam-steered wireless network. (Caltech)

A test launch and deployment of ultra-lightweight structures is approaching. It will be used as multifunctional demonstrators of technologies for collecting sunlight, converting it into electrical energy and transmitting it wirelessly from space using microwaves .

The first test of the project is planned for early 2023. The first prototypes with solar power generators and wireless power transmission will have a deployable structure measuring approximately 1.8 meters by 1.8 meters.

It is assumed that the final system will consist of several deployable modules several tens of meters in size, working synchronously with each other. In the future, the system can be expanded by adding additional modules.

Space solar power received a lot of attention from scientists in the 1970s when the main technical components (solar power in space and wireless power transmission) were demonstrated. NASA technical reports indicated that the concept was technically feasible, but at the time the idea was economically unrealistic. However, recent advances in photovoltaic systems, structures, electronics and lower launch costs could make space solar power a reality in the near future.

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