Solar energy: China's space factory could set up almost anywhere on the planet


CHina's installation of solar energy into space could emit power in almost every region of the world, potentially transforming the economy of renewable energy and paving the way for more consistent power. The project, detailed last month, would capture solar energy in space and send it to a receiving facility located on Earth, bypassing atmospheric conditions to receive energy six times more intense than a similar installation installed on the ground.

"You can bring electricity from Canada to Tierra del Fuego, at the southern tip of South America, from a satellite to the equator," said John Mankins. who spent 25 years at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory developing a space-based solar system. .

This could be a major step forward for sending energy to various locations as needed. While residential solar installation costs have dropped over the last decade in the United States, from $ 6.65 per watt in 2010 to $ 2.89 in 2018, space solar could release more energy. 39 Cheap energy for a larger number of locations.

China aims to deliver the project soon. Work is underway on a power plant in Chongqing City, and Sydney Morning Herald indicates that the plan is to test small to medium sized stations in the stratosphere between 2021 and 2025. From there, the goal is to build a megawatt-level space station in 2030 before moving to a station. gigawatt level by 2050 – for comparison, Microsoft's global clean energy portfolio is about 1.4 gigawatts.

"It's not a posture; It's a real plan for serious organizations with reputable scientists in China, "Mankins told CNBC. "They have a very good technical plan and they can do it. [the megawatt-level station] from here 2030. "

The idea is not new, as NASA had explored its potential with concepts such as the SunTower in the 1970s:

The Suntower concept of NASA.
The Suntower concept of NASA.

The embargo on the Arab oil fueled these original concepts, but these deviated at the time when it appeared that space solar would have cost $ 1 trillion for the first kilowatt hour. Mankins argued that these costs would have decreased with the fall in prices for robotics and rocket launches, thanks in part to the efforts of SpaceX and Blue Origin. The ability to transmit energy to remote locations could also be beneficial to the military.

"The money you send to remote military bases can fund technology later," said Mankins.

The station projected by China would gravitate around 22,000 miles above the Earth and provide energy 99% of the time. The final construction will weigh about 1,000 tons, 600 more than the International Space Station. To reduce the complexity of such a project, researchers plan to use robots and 3D printers to carry out this project in space.

It is unclear how the station will transmit energy in the end, lasers and microwaves offering varying benefits. Lasers can travel about 250 km and transmit energy to a cheap receiver, but each satellite produces only about 10 megawatts and its potential security is debatable. Microwaves can send much larger amounts of up to a gigawatt of a satellite much higher in the sky to a receiver several kilometers wide. Both methods could help capture about 30% of the solar energy that the atmosphere currently reflects.

Advances in these technologies could help domestic installations. Researchers from the Swiss-based Inseego company announced last month a residential panel that uses a small number of space cells to increase efficiency to 29%. Space cells being more expensive due to increased efficiency, the team used a reduced cell count and focused light with lenses by a factor of 100. The European Space Agency has also developed space cells of 100 micrometers in thickness with a much higher efficiency rate. .

While the concept of solar panels at the top of each house at the Tesla Solar Roof may seem futuristic, the future may well be happening with projected energy beams of space.

Revolutionary solar panels use space technology for double efficiency

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