Space-Based Solar Power – the answer to the EU energy crisis?
Grant Brown, Founder, Happy Eco News
Spaced-Based Solar Power sounds like the stuff of science fiction, but if the European Space Agency (ESA) has its way, it might just be the solution to many of the world’s energy problems.
When Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022, the world watched in shock as the repercussions of this unprovoked war took hold. Global sanctions against Russian interests escalated, and in retaliation, Russia turned off the taps of gas supplies to Western Europe.
The resulting energy crisis has crippled economies and caused hardship for many of the citizens in countries reliant on these fossil fuel imports. As I wrote in my post called Vladimir Putin Climate Hero, the man has inadvertently begun the rapid transition to clean energy which will cripple his economy for decades to come.
This transition is certainly overdue; energy independence for large Western European countries has been lacking, and the reliance on a country like Russia was naive at best and complicit at worst. We in the West have known for decades that Putin is a bully and a delusional egomaniac. After the Russian invaded and annexed Ukrainian Crimea in 2014, the West should have started to cut him off immediately.
Fast forward to winter 2022, and the reality of the energy situation is hitting home. The cost for the EU to rapidly begin importing fossil fuels from a source other than Russia is huge – about the same as the cost to transition to renewables. Thankfully, that is what has begun, but what most people don’t realize, is that there is a very promising alternative to intermittent and inefficient traditional renewable energy sources; Space Based Solar Power.
The ESA recently published a viability report on Spaced-Based Solar Power (SBSP). It would appear the potential is huge and due to technology advances, is now viable. SBSP relies on large solar arrays in geostationary orbit. These orbiting solar panels then beam the energy down to Earth. Because there is no atmosphere in space and items in geostationary orbit experience virtually no nighttime, photovoltaic panels can produce 40 times as much energy as ground-based solar. Despite the effort required to get them into orbit, the systems are so efficient that they would have a lower carbon footprint than land-based systems.
The logistics of getting the panels into orbit are relatively simple to implement – we’ve had the required technology for decades, and the idea of SBSP has been studied by scientists for more than 50 years. The biggest stumbling block is transmitting the power to Earth. The solar panel satellite, roughly 6 km in diameter, will be made of photovoltaic panels that collect sunlight and convert it into electrical energy – this is the “easy” part. The energy would then be turned into microwaves using an amplifier and beamed to Earth via a massive transmitter. The microwaves are not affected or absorbed by clouds or earth’s atmosphere, so the energy transmission is efficient. The problem is that it’s never been done in real life.
Recent technological advances have made the idea not only possible but, according to ESA, also economically viable. So much so that ESA has initiated a new project called the SOLARIS Programme, which is tasked with achieving the goal of a test project in 2023-2025.
Has Space-Based Solar Power finally reached the tipping point of commercial viability? That remains to be seen, as there are certainly hurdles to overcome. But the challenge is worth taking on when you consider the upside of a project like this – the ability to provide all of humanity’s power requirements for the foreseeable future. News like this gives me great hope for our collective future.
Yes, we will need to endure some changes to the climate in the near term, but the power of nature to regenerate is often underestimated. If we can give nature a break, she will heal, and with it, so will we.