Countries all over the world seem to be in a race to build solar power plants in space and beam energy back to Earth. The UK and China have already shown interest in making this kind of technology, and it looks like Japan is the latest country to join them.
Why build a solar power station in space?
Wouldn’t it make more sense and cost less to build a solar power plant on Earth? Well, yes, that would be the case. But building a solar power plant in space instead of here on Earth would have some benefits. When the UK’s Space Energy Initiative suggested building a plan to beam energy back from space, they did so because they thought a plant in space would make a lot more electricity than a plant of the same size on Earth. The group says that if there were two identical plants, one on Earth in the UK and one in space, the one in space would be able to make more than 13 times as much energy.
Another benefit is that a space-based power plant would not have problems with power going out. In space, the Sun will always be shining on it. A solar plant will not always get sun on Earth. Because of this, solar power plants will need battery storage systems so that they don’t lose power when the weather is bad.
Japan wants to build a solar power plant in space.
Nikkei says that a public-private partnership in Japan wants to send solar panels into space 36,000 kilometers above the Earth. The solar facility will turn the power it makes into microwave radiation, which will be sent to stations on the ground. The technology has been worked on by a Japanese research group led by since the 1980s, the article says. The group was the first in the world to use microwaves to successfully send power into space.
So far, the group has been able to successfully test the transmission of microwave power both horizontally and vertically over a distance of 50 meters. The next thing it will try is vertical transmission at distances between 1 and 5 kilometers. The group plans to do an experiment in 2025 to see if it is possible to send power from space to the ground. They will use small satellites to send power from hundreds of kilometers away to stations on the ground.
In the UK, over 50 organizations, including Airbus, Cambridge University, and the company that makes satellites, SSTL, have joined the UK Space Energy Initiative to work on the same kind of technology. A plan for the initiative is to put a “demonstrator plant” in space as soon as 2035. But if China gets its way, it might get there even sooner. South China Morning Post says that the country wants to put a solar power plant in space by 2028. But the Chinese satellite will be sent 400 kilometers into space.