London (England) In its search for a climate-friendly energy supply, Great Britain is looking to space. Specifically, the British Space Energy Initiative would like to implement a modular solar power plant that orbits the earth and supplies it with energy.
50 well-known companies, universities and other research organizations are working on the project. Among others, Airbus, Cambridge University, but also the satellite manufacturer SSTL are involved. According to the researchers, the power plant could be put into operation as early as 2035. As futuristic as the project sounds, its implementation is realistic, said the chairman of the initiative, Martin Soltau, at a climate conference in London at the end of April.
However, according to a study by Frazer-Nash Consultancy, the scope and size of the project is problematic. In addition, the technical implementation requires new components and materials. The Space Energy Initiative is therefore planning to build a small prototype first, which should orbit the earth by 2035 at the latest.
Around 300 rocket launches are required to launch the prototype modules into space. The individual parts are then to be assembled by robots. If the demonstration phase is successful, the system could later be significantly expanded thanks to the modular design.
According to Soltau, the orbital solar power plant will orbit the earth at a distance of 36,000 kilometers. The satellite will collect solar energy using large, lightweight mirrors and photovoltaic cells, just like traditional solar cells on Earth. Direct current is produced there, which is converted into microwaves by means of a solid-state high-frequency power amplifier. With this, the electric current is then sent back to earth.
China presented a similar concept at the end of 2021. An orbital solar power plant in the gigawatt range is planned there, which is to be built by 2050.
Compared to a solar power plant of the same size on Earth, the one in space would produce more than 13 times more energy. Unlike on Earth, where the sun doesn’t always shine, there are no disruption problems in space.
By beaming solar energy from space to Earth, Britain hopes to reach its net-zero target by 2035 more cost-effectively than with existing technologies.
To receive this energy from space, the system would require a huge earth-based antenna called a rectenna. The rectenna receives microwave radiation sent from space and converts it into electrical energy that can be used for high-voltage transmission. The initiative claims that this radiation poses no danger to the population.