Green Energy

Space-Based Solar Power Could Be Reality by 2030, Says Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency

Nov 28 2014 Comments 0

Space-Based Solar Power Could Be Reality by 2014, Says Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency

A solar farm in outer space; it sounds like the plot of a particularly cheesy sci-fi movie doesn’t it? But according to the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) it could be a reality by 2030.

As the world faces an unprecedented energy crisis, scientists are frantically researching a feasible alternative. At present, fossil fuels (coal, oil and gas) fulfil more than 80% of our energy needs but these fuels are not limitless; they will one day run out. And while fuel reserves are decreasing, worldwide energy demands are increasing at a startling rate.

In addition, easy access to energy supplies isn’t a given. The majority of fuel reserves are owned by a minority of nations; nations who have highly-sensitive relations with many other countries. Energy is a politically volatile issue. Add to this the environmental ramifications of fossil fuels, and it’s evident a safe and clean alternative is desperately needed. For more information on this topic, read this story: How Much Longer Can We Depend on Fossil Fuels?

Introducing Space-Based Solar Power

One possible alternative is space-based solar power (SBSP). The concept isn’t a new one. Research into SBSP began in the early 1970s, but only recently has it become a real possibility.

SBSP works in much the same way as Earth-based solar power generation. Except rather than fixing small solar panels to buildings, huge panels are attached to a satellite. The satellite orbits the Earth, collecting solar energy. This energy is then transmitted to Earth in the form of microwaves and converted into electricity for commercial use.

The benefits of SBSP are significant. Firstly there is no night time in space, so energy is collected 24 hours a day. Secondly, no solar energy will be lost in the atmosphere (because it won’t travel through the atmosphere). The collection rate could, therefore, be much higher. 

Revolutionising the Energy Industry

Susumu Sasaki, a researcher at JAXA, has explained how SBSP could revolutionise the energy industry. Theoretically, solar energy can provide unlimited energy, something the world urgently needs. If SBSP is pulled off, it could mean an end to the energy crisis and an end to energy conflicts.

Of course, SBSP is not cheap. Launching a satellite into space is hugely expensive and extremely labour-intensive. There are other possible disadvantages too, but JAXA claims the long-term payoff is more than worth it. The agency estimates that, provided initial work begins in 2020, we could be benefiting from space-based solar power by 2030.

Japan knows better than anyone the devastating impact of limited energy reserves. The country has a distinct lack of natural resources and recent disasters have destroyed major nuclear reactors; the situation in Japan is desperate. It’s fitting then that it is their aerospace agency making SBSP possible.

What Ever Next?

Believe it or not, solar power isn't the only possible source of green energy from space - for more information on this topic, read: Is Space the Answer to Green Energy?

Image Source: Sun on Horizon
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