Is space based solar power a feasibility?
Space-based Solar Power, also known as SBSP, has received a fair bit of media attention in recent years. This is understandable as space-based solar power is potentially the largest energy source that is available to us. Since there is no air in space, the solar panels can collect more sunlight as the sunlight is not obstructed by atmospheric gases or cloud cover. It is said that space-based solar panels can collect 144% more sunlight than the maximum attainable sunlight on the earths surface.
The orbiting satellites can be exposed to a consistently high level of radiation and will remain in the earth's shadow for a very short period of time, thus allowing the satellite to be illuminated for 99% of the time. Solar-based power stations will able to efficiently supply power to areas that need power the most including remote areas of the planet. Additionally, since the plants are based in space, they will not take up land and interfere with nature.
A Japanese architectural and engineering firm called Shimizu has announced plans to solve the worlds energy problems by installing a 400 KM band of solar panels around the moon’s equator and them beaming the solar energy back to earth in the form of microwaves, which will then be converted into electricity. Shimizu plan to start building the power plant in 2035. One of the advantages of having a solar power plant on the moon is that it can generate electricity around the clock, unlike terrestrial solar power plants. As such, a lunar based plant is far more efficient. Of course, the problem is that it will be significantly more expensive to implement.
Not only that but Shimizu still has to stake their claim on the lunar real estate before anything can go ahead, which may prove very tricky. Shimizu is not the first company to consider implementing a non-terrestrial based solar power plant. The California Public Utilities Commission has approved a plan for Pacific Gas & Electric to buy space-based solar power from Solaren Corporation. Solaren proposes to use orbiting satellites equipped with solar photovoltaic panels, which convert the sunlight into energy, which are then beamed back to earth in the form of radio waves. The plan is said to go live in 2016.
As mentioned the there are very high development costs associated with such projects. In order to make such projects more cost efficient there needs to be advancements in developing low-cost environmentally friendly launch vehicles as the current launch vehicles are too expensive and the frequency in which they will be used may create pollution of their own.
Due to the hostile environment of space, the solar panels will be subject to a faster degradation process, and because they are based in space they will be much harder to maintain. There’s also the chance that the panels will get damaged as a result of being struck by space debris.
Space-based solar power is an exciting concept, however much research and testing needs to be undertaken before it will be considered a viable option for providing power to the earth.