The Government has commissioned research that could see solar energy harvested in space to offer an unlimited and constant zero carbon power sourcefor the UK.
The space-based solar power (SBSP) systems would use very large solar power satellites to collect solar energy, convert it into high-frequency radio waves and beam it back to ground-based receivers connected to the electrical power grid.
It is an idea first conjured by science-fiction writer Isaac Asimov in 1941, and is now being studied by several nations because the lightweight solar panels and wireless power transmission technology is advancing rapidly.
This, together with lower cost commercial space launch, may make the concept of solar power satellites more feasible and economically viable.
Science Minister Amanda Solloway said: “Solar space stations may sound like science fiction, but they could be a game-changing new source of energy for the UK and the rest of the world.
“This pioneering Government-backed study will help shine a light on the possibilities for a space-based solar power system which, if successful, could play an important role in reducing our emissions and meeting the UK’s ambitious climate change targets.”
The study, led by Frazer-Nash Consultancy, will consider the engineering and economics of such a system – whether it could deliver affordable energy for consumers, and the engineering and technology that would be required to build it.
One of the biggest issues to overcome is assembling the massive satellites in orbit, which has not been done before at this scale.
Dr Graham Turnock, chief executive of the UK Space Agency, said: “The Sun never sets in space, so a space solar power system could supply renewable energy to anywhere on the planet, day or night, rain or shine.
“It is an idea that has existed for decades, but has always felt decades away.
“The UK is growing its status as a global player in space and we have bold plans to launch small satellites in the coming years.
“Space solar could be another string to our bow, and this study will help establish whether it is right for the UK.”
Historically, the cost of rocket launches and the weight that would be required for a project of this scale made the idea of space-based solar power unfeasible.
But the emergence of privately-led space ventures has brought the cost of launch down dramatically in the last decade.
Frazer-Nash is studying the leading international solar power satellite designs, and we will be drawing up the engineering plan to deploy an operational SBSP system by 2050.