⇧ [VIDÉO] You may also like this partner content (after ad)
The concept is not new and several laboratories around the world are exploring the feasibility of this type of project. But Xi’an-based LONGi Green Energy Technology Company seems particularly advanced on the issue. Continuously harvesting solar energy through space-based solar panels, and then transmitting and harnessing it on Earth, could help meet global energy demand without greenhouse gas emissions.
The idea is to eliminate the main drawback of photovoltaic panels, which is that they can only work when the sun is shining. In fact, solar panels placed in Earth orbit can harness the sun’s energy permanently, and not just on sunny days. The project could mark the beginning of a long-lasting collaboration between the solar sector and the Chinese space program. Wu Zhijian, president of the China Space Foundation, even mentions “off-planet” power plants.
The main difficulty of this project is not so much the design of the panels themselves, but the development of a system for wireless transmission of energy to ground receiving stations, which would be responsible for converting it into electricity. However, researchers at Xidian University in Shaanxi said earlier this year that they had successfully tested a technology specifically designed to transmit solar power from space. This is based on the conversion of sunlight into microwave beams.
A potential springboard to achieve climate goals
The system captures sunlight above the ground and then converts it into microwave beams, which are then transmitted through the air to a receiving station on the ground, where they can be converted into electricity. While experimentation with the technology only took place at an altitude of 55 meters, the researchers hope their system can be extended to cover the long distances between the orbiting panels and Earth.
LONGi’s new laboratory dedicated to the project, LONGi Green Energy Future Energy Space Laboratory, will begin testing the use of its technology on Earth, in harsh environments, to assess its suitability for use in space programs. says the company’s press release. ” The actual environment of outer space will be simulated on the ground, and changes in the relevant performance of the product will be monitored. “, explains the company. The lab will also study plans for energy and environmental monitoring satellites from space.
Note that CalTech is also working on space solar panel design and introduced its first prototypes in 2017: thanks to a donation of more than 100 million dollars by Donald Bren, president of the Irvine Company. The first Space-Based Solar Power Project (SSPP) prototypes are expected to launch in early 2023; its transmission system is also based on high frequency radio waves. Teams in Japan, Russia and India are also working on the issue, reports Bloomberg.
the british government It also plans to build a solar power plant in space by 2035. More than 50 British technology organizations have joined the UK Space Energy Initiative, launched in 2021 to explore the feasibility of this project, estimated at 17 billion euros. sterling pounds. Experts believe a space power plant could help the UK reach its goal of zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.
Panels that could deteriorate quickly
Depending on the platform Our world in data, world primary energy consumption in 2021 exceeded 165,000 TWh; the share of solar energy was only 2,700 TWh. If LONGi’s technology works, it could be revolutionary. However, it poses some problems. The weight of solar panels was initially one of the main challenges to be solved, but the development of ultralight solar cells has made it possible to overcome this difficulty. However, assembling a single space solar power plant will require numerous space shuttle launches, costly transportation and significant greenhouse gas emissions.
According to statements reported by ElectrekDerek Wise, Editor at explored space, rightly points out that even if space solar panels offer two or three times the efficiency of ground-based solar panels, they won’t make up for the tens of millions of dollars needed to launch them. ” We already have too much space debris and large constellations of satellites in orbit. There are no regulations to ensure that operators cooperate to avoid each other, and adding more is not going to improve the situation. adds Seth Kurkowski, also an editor at Space Explored.
In addition, space debris can not only damage solar panels, but they are likely to degrade much faster than on Earth, since they will not be protected by Earth’s atmosphere and will be constantly exposed to extremely intense radiation.
Despite particularly high investment costs and an uncertain return, some proponents of the project remain confident. ” LONGi Green Energy has greatly contributed to the substantial reduction of PV costs, making PV the cheapest electric power in history. said Martin Green, an expert in the development and use of solar energy and a professor at the University of New South Wales, Australia. Thanks to its space project, the firm will undoubtedly continue to improve its terrestrial technologies a little more. The technology could also be useful for a future sustainable human presence on the Moon, or even Mars.