Posted: 20 Feb 2023 by Jamie Lee

Harvesting energy from Space: Mankind’s next crusade, or one giant step too far?

Of all the challenges facing humanity today, energy sustainability is among the most pressing, no more prevalent, as the launch of new policies to reach net zero becomes a regular occurrence. With a growing population, increasing energy consumption, and finite resources, finding sustainable ways to generate energy has become a critical global priority. Harvesting energy from space just might be the answer, and we’re going to tell you how.

While many solutions have been proposed, one promising avenue is exploring the possibility of harvesting energy from space. In this blog, we will explore the potential of space-based energy harvesting, focusing on solar farms in space and their ability to beam electricity to Earth, and examine whether this can be the answer to cleaner energy and the phasing out of fossil fuels.

Harvesting energy from space – How is it done?

Harvesting energy from space is a concept that has been around for decades, but it is only in recent years that it has gained serious attention. The basic idea is to use space-based solar panels to harvest energy from the sun and then beam that energy back to Earth using either microwaves or lasers. The energy would be captured by a receiving station on the ground and then converted into electricity for use in homes, businesses, and industries.

A solar farm in space, also known as a space-based solar power system (SBSP), would consist of a large array of solar panels mounted on a satellite in geostationary orbit around the Earth. The solar panels would collect energy from the sun and then use microwaves or lasers to beam that energy back to Earth. Because the satellite would be in geostationary orbit, it would always be in the same position relative to the Earth, allowing the energy to be beamed back to the same receiving station on the ground.

One of the biggest advantages of space-based solar power is that it would be available 24/7, regardless of weather conditions. Solar panels on the ground are subject to cloud cover and other environmental factors that can reduce their efficiency, but space-based solar panels would be above the atmosphere and unaffected by these factors. It would also be able to generate as much energy as several large nuclear power plants; space-based solar power has the potential to be a reliable, consistent, and powerful source of energy.

sustainability in space

One giant step too far?

Despite the potential advantages of space-based solar power, there are also some challenges that need to be addressed. One of the biggest challenges is the cost of launching the solar panels and other equipment into space. Launching objects into space is an expensive and complicated process, and it would require a significant investment to build and launch a solar farm in space.

Another challenge is the safety concerns associated with beaming energy back to Earth. While the technology for beaming energy back to Earth using microwaves or lasers exists, there are still questions about how safe this technology is and what the long-term health effects might be. These concerns would need to be addressed before space-based solar power could become a widespread source of energy.

When, if ever, are we likely to see take-off?

Just last year we received the news that NASA were to re-examine space-based solar power, increasing the chances of SBSP coming to fruition tenfold. Whilst SBSP is still in the early stages of development, it has the potential to be a major source of sustainable energy in the future. In fact, according to Martin Soltau, the co-chairman at Space Energy Initiative (SEI), it could happen as soon as 2035.

Solar farms in space could generate a massive amount of energy that is available 24/7, making it a reliable and consistent source of clean energy. While there are certainly challenges that need to be addressed, the potential benefits of space-based solar power make it an avenue worth exploring as we work to phase out fossil fuels and transition to a cleaner, more sustainable future.

Harvesting energy from space is one of the most exciting technological advancements to come out of the sustainability sphere, and whilst twelve years really isn’t that long to wait, especially in space, we have to ensure we’re as sustainable as possible within our current means. 

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