Government commissions Solar Power Satellites research

The UK government has commissioned new research into space-based solar power (SBSP) systems using Solar Power Satellites as a sustainable energy source.

Video: Orbital model showing 2GW solar power satellite in a geosynchronous Laplace plane orbit. The satellite is visible to the sun for over 99.9% of the time throughout the year, offering 24/7 base load clean energy. (© Frazer-Nash Consultancy)

The satellites would collect solar energy, convert it into high frequency radio waves, and safely beam it back to ground-based receivers connected to the electricity power grid. Solar energy harvested in space offers the potential of an unlimited and constant zero carbon power source. 

Future energy predictions: Growth of flexibility and grid forming

First conjured by science-fiction writer Isaac Asimov in 1941, the concept is now being studied by several nations due to rapidly advancing lightweight solar panels and wireless power transmission technology. Together with lower cost commercial space launch, it is hoped that Solar Power Satellites could become a more feasible and economically viable sustainable energy solution.

Historically, the cost of rocket launches and the weight required for a project of this scale made the idea of space-based solar unfeasible. The emergence of privately-led space ventures has brought this cost down significantly in the last decade.

This latest study, led by Frazer-Nash Consultancy, will consider whether such a system could deliver affordable energy for consumers, and the engineering and technology that would be required to build it.

Video: Power beaming to rectenna. Orbital model showing microwave power beaming to a rectenna near the London Array offshore wind farm, offering ready grid connectivity (© Frazer-Nash Consultancy)

According to researchers, the biggest issues to overcome is assembling the satellites in orbit, something that has not yet been done at this scale.

Martin Soltau, Space Business manager at Frazer-Nash, described the need to explore new technologies offering clean and affordable energy for the nation as ‘vital.’

“Frazer-Nash is studying the leading international Solar Power Satellite designs, and we will be drawing up the engineering plan to deploy an operational SBSP system by 2050," he said. "We are forming an expert panel, comprised of leading SBSP experts and space and energy organisations, to gain a range of industry views.”

According to Soltau, the consultancy will compare SBSP with other forms of renewable energy with the help of partner Oxford Economics, who he said will provide additional insight into the economic assessment of the system.