Space Based Solar Power

Originally published here: https://mcgill.ca/oss/article/did-you-know-technology/space-based-solar-power

There are certain problems with solar power technologies that still need some work. We are addressing quite a few bumps on the road to completely sustainable energy though. High costs of solar cells are being brought down by green energy rebates and tax exemptions. Inflexible and delicate solar panels are being subbed out for durable ones that can be used to make roadsor roofs, and the ever-present climate change deniers that resist solar power’s implementation are a slowly dying breed. But 1 big issue still arises- how do we get more power from the sun?

Space-based solar power is a developing technology that may just help us get more bang for our solar bucks. Due to the atmosphere of Earth, 55-60% of solar power is lostbefore it ever reaches the stratosphere, and due to the Earth’s rotation, another 10-25%of solar energy is lost if panels aren’t set up with a tracking system, to stay pointed at the sun. Not to mention the fact that solar panels are virtually useless at night. By putting solar panels into space, they would be exposed to light for almost 100% of a day, versus the 29% the average panel gets on Earth, and the panels wouldn’t need to be protected from storms, animals or even humans. It’s even possible that placing solar panels into space could help limit the solar radiation reaching Earth, thereby reducing the effects of global warming.

But there are a few major hold ups for this technology, namely, putting things into space. Satellites are incredibly expensive (50 million on the cheaper end), and though they may take less damage when in space, they could not simply be services when damage does occur. There’s also a notable problem of how to transmit the energy back to Earth. Solar panels on the ground convert photons into moving electrons and send them down wires to where they’re needed, but we can’t very well wire from space to the power plants. Ideas on multi-step processes involving photons becoming electrons becoming photons becoming electrons have been examined, but at each stage, energy would be lost.

Alas, don’t expect to be powering your microwave from space energy soon, though do join me in holding out hope for this decidedly futuristic technology!

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