Space-based solar gets £4.3m funding boost

Energy Secretary Grant Shapps has announced £4.3m in funding for research to support space-based solar energy, following the completion of a government-run innovation competition.

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A fast-growing area of technological research, spaced-based solar collects energy from the Sun using satellites in orbit, beaming it back to Earth with wireless technology. As the Sun is visible 99 per cent of the time for these satellites, it is potentially a highly reliable future source of clean energy for the planet, if the technology can deliver.

Recipients of the government funding include Cambridge University, where researchers are working on ultra-lightweight solar panels that can function in the high-radiation conditions of space, and London’s Queen Mary University which is developing a system to beam collected solar energy back to earth.

“Space technology and solar energy have a long history – the need to power satellites was a key driver in increasing the efficiency of solar panels which generate electricity for homes and businesses today,” said Dr Mamatha Maheshwarappa, Payload Systems lead at the UK Space Agency.

“There is significant potential for the space and energy sectors to work together to support the development of space-based solar power, and the UK Space Agency has contributed £1m to these innovative projects to help take this revolutionary concept to the next level.”

An independent study in 2021, found that space-based solar power could account for up to 10GW of electricity generation capacity by 2050. It also found that the technology could create a multi-billion-pound industry, supporting up to 143,000 jobs across the country.

The UK is among several countries, including Japan and the United States, investigating space-based solar power. Earlier this month, scientists at the California Institute of Technology claimed to have achieved a world-first by successfully transmitting solar power to Earth from space.

The eight projects to be awarded funding from the government’s Space Based Solar Power Innovation Competition are:

  • Cambridge University, receiving over £770,000 to develop ultra-lightweight solar panels that can survive long periods in high-radiation environments like the conditions in space.
  • Queen Mary University in London will receive over £960,000 to develop a wireless power transmission system with high efficiency over a long range
  • MicroLink Devices UK Ltd in Port Talbot, South Wales, has been awarded over £449,000 to develop the next generation of lightweight, flexible solar panels
  • Bristol University is receiving over £353,000 to produce a simulation of solar space wireless power transfer capability
  • Satellite Applications Catapult Ltd in Didcot has been awarded over £999,000 for an experiment to test the electronical steering and beam quality of its space satellite antenna technology
  • Imperial College London is receiving over £295,000 for a study to assess the key benefits and impacts of space solar, including how solar energy from space could be integrated into the electricity grid alongside other low-carbon energy sources
  • EDF Energy R&D UK Centre Ltd will receive over £25,000 for a study to improve knowledge of the value of introducing space based solar power into the UK’s grid