Solar Power From Space

by Alex Elder

Although solar power is currently a popular source of renewable energy in the United States, it has several drawbacks. The biggest problem with relying on sunlight for energy is the disruption of solar absorption when there is a lack of sunlight. Thus, in areas of the country that often experience cloudy or overcast weather, solar power is not a reliable source of energy. Furthermore, solar power is not typically available at night without a sophisticated energy storage system. One solution to this problem is to establish solar farms in space. Although it may sound like science fiction, colonies of solar panel satellites in space would circumvent the major disadvantages associated with using solar panels on Earth. Additionally, sunlight in space is about ten times more powerful than what we experience on Earth, making this system more efficient in both its reliability and its strength.

In order to transmit the energy from space back to Earth, an orbiting solar farm would need to absorb energy from the sun and then convert it into radio waves. In this form, the energy could be “beamed” down to receiving antennae on Earth. The radio transmissions would then be converted back into useable electricity and fed into the conventional power grid. The concept of transmitting solar energy via radio waves has already been tested in 2008 when NASA was able to beam solar energy between two Hawaiian islands 90 miles apart (Iannotta, 2008). However, because the receivers in the experiment were so small, very little of the energy was actually received.
Although this proof-of-concept experiment was not entirely successful, it opened up the doorway to future experiments in space-based solar power and further development of wireless power transmission. Continued innovation in the energy sector will help generate new ideas for future sources of energy and methods of improving our current energy systems.

Iannotta, B. (2008). Experiment boosts hopes for space solar power. NBC News. http://www.nbcnews.com/id/26678942/#.VOzxb_nF98E

McSpadden, J. O., & Mankins, J. C. (2002). Space solar power programs and microwave wireless power transmission technology. Microwave Magazine, IEEE3(4), 46-57.

Reed, K., & Willenberg, H. J. (2009). Early commercial demonstration of space solar power using ultra-lightweight arrays. Acta Astronautica65(9), 1250-1260.

 

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