A group of engineers from the University of Strathclyde, in Glasgow, says that harnessing solar energy in space would be an efficient method of ensuring that the maximum amount of sunlight can be converted into electricity. The current would then be sent to Earth via lasers.
This would indeed be renewable energy for the space age! The concept is not new in itself, since many researchers, especially in Japan, are currently investigating similar proposals. However, the idea behind it is very revolutionary, albeit a bit expensive to implement.
What the Strathclyde experts are doing is developing a series of space platforms on which new generations of solar panels could be installed. Since they would be unobstructed by clouds or dust, these panels would produce electricity at full capacity, all the time.
The energy could be stored in capacitors, and then sent to special ground station on the planet's surface via lasers or microwave radiations. In addition to offering cheap electricity, this approach would also provide the basic commodity to areas of the world that are very difficult to access on the ground.
“Space provides a fantastic source for collecting solar power and we have the advantage of being able to gather it regardless of the time of the day or indeed the weather conditions, says Dr. Massimiliano Vasile, from the university's Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering.
“In areas like the Sahara desert where quality solar power can be captured, it becomes very difficult to transport this energy to areas where it can be used. However, our research is focusing on how we can remove this obstacle and use space based solar power to target difficult to reach areas,” he adds.
The expert is also the leader of the space-based solar power research effort. One of the main advantages of using this system, he says, is that it would provide energy continuously. Its targeted receiver station could also be changed, as the planet spins underneath the platform.
“Initially, smaller satellites will be able to generate enough energy for a small village but we have the aim, and indeed the technology available, to one day put a large enough structure in space that could gather energy that would be capable of powering a large city,” Vasile goes on to say.
The initiative is being developed as part of a NASA Institute for Advanced Concepts (NIAC) study, EurekAlert