Year after year, concern about climate change increases because fossil energy consumption trends continue to grow. Civilization urgently needs to switch to a sustainable energy and industrial model to mitigate the devastating effects of global warming in future. Despite the challenge for society to change our energy habits, advances in science and technology have given us a broad spectrum of possibilities to act. Let’s review one of the most impressive and significant: space solar energy.
The science and other stuff to know
More than a century ago, the Russian scientist Konstantin Tsiolkovsky had already predicted the future existence of an orbital device that would take energy from the sun and send it to Earth. Today various research teams worldwide try to make his fantastic idea a reality.
Solar energy is a clean energy form whose use will help us decarbonize the atmosphere. The problem is that it may not be as efficient because, obviously, it is not daytime all the time. In many highly populated regions, such as the United Kingdom or India, sunlight is scarce during the year due to the climate. Due to this scenario, scientists from Caltech, ESA, and The Japanese Space Agency (JAXA), among others, focus on designing and building prototype solar panels sent into space to absorb and provide permanent solar energy.
Harry Atwater is the leader of the Caltech project developing a 2D prototype foldable solar panel. He told Cnet: “[The unique] and defining feature of Caltech’s approach is a focus on reducing component mass by 10 to 100 times. […] This is essential to reduce manufacturing and launch costs for space solar power economical.”
JAXA is also working on space solar power systems (SSPS), which it intends to put into operation in the coming decades to harness solar radiation that is 40% more intense in space than on Earth.
The experts consider that betting on this option could be more profitable and faster than returning to nuclear energy due to the required research, time, and costs. Of course, a sustainable energy supply paradigm must have several diverse tributaries from different sources, but prioritizing space solar energy could buy us the time we need to quench the scourge of the climate disaster we have unleashed for a century.
Looking ahead to the next COP27 that will take place in Egypt in November, institutions, companies, and governments must begin to consider seriously removing this type of technology from the futuristic fiction plane to reality by investing more resources. Time is running out, and there is no planet B.
“The potential for this concept to contribute to long-term sustainable energy is very high. It would not only generate clean energy, but it would also be very flexible: it could be integrated into Earth’s power grids and used for exploration missions,” suggests Advenit Makaya, an ESA engineer working on the development of this technology.