The space race for solar energy begins. A team of Chinese researchers is already working on the installation of a space solar power plant capable of providing cheap and universal electricity over very long distances.
Collect energy from the Sun and send it directly to Earth
The project resides in the launch in 2035 of a fleet of giant solar panels whose space solar array will send a similar amount of electricity to the grid to which a nuclear power plant can currently contribute.
With an idea that seems straight out of the field of science fiction (without going any further, the idea of space-based solar energy dates back to a 1941 short story by science fiction author Isaac Asimov and a 1968 article in the magazine Science ), since there are no clouds to obstruct the entry of the sun’s rays, the station would be a constant source of zero-emission energy.
Chongqing has been chosen as the site to begin construction of this innovative space solar power plant that will begin testing later this year, with the hope of having a megawatt solar power station by 2030. It would come into operation in 2035 and would be fully operational in 2050 .
In addition to sending clean energy to Earth, the space solar power plant could also power more complex and farther missions in space, as long as the laser beam that would transmit the energy is precise enough to target any spacecraft that are going to. launch or have launched to explore the cosmos.
Although the project originally started three years ago with $ 15.4 million for the space solar energy program, it ended up being delayed in order to analyze the feasibility, safety and cost of the initiative. Finally, the project was resumed in June 2021 and construction will finish by the end of the year.
Once the first satellites are sent into orbit, the intention is for the orbiting station to be running day and night. Having an array of solar panels orbiting more than 36,000 kilometers above Earth in geostationary orbit would allow the power plant to bypass Earth’s shadow and collect sunlight 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Advantages of the technology include the fact that it is always noon in space, so collecting surfaces could receive more intense sunlight than on Earth.
Are there risks?
Chinese researchers would first have to show that wireless energy transfer works over long distances. But is it a safe project?
When the huge solar panels rotate to chase the sun they could produce small but persistent vibrations in the power transmission laser , which could cause a misfire. In addition, there is the problem of radiation. According to a calculation made last year by a research team from Beijing Jiaotong University, residents could not live within a 5 km range of the ground receiving station for the 1GW Chinese solar plant in space. In fact , the central 2-hectare experimental zone is surrounded by a five times greater exclusion zone. Local residents cannot enter this area for their own safety, according to the district government.