Can Solar in Space Solve our Energy Needs?
The world is desperate, as it requires a radical, innovative energy system to succeed in energy sustainability and security assurances. This concept is being delivered through space-based solar power (SBSP). SBSP is a new source of power that could theoretically satisfy all energy demands, giving nearly endless green, renewable energy to a planet in desperate need.
Solar energy from space is a tremendous provider of clean energy that can supply more power than is currently consumed or is expected to consume ultimately, outweighing the disadvantages, such as the high cost of launch and transport. As a result, by 2050, the U.S. should develop and deploy a major space-based solar power capability. Concerns about the technologies involved, energy needs and security, and what constitutes a considerable solar power capability in space accompany this potential.
This revolutionary approach entails launching massive orbital power plants into space, which absorb the Sun’s energy and wirelessly deliver it to Earth, directing it down to where it is needed. Solar panels capture solar energy by utilizing reflectors that focus solar radiation onto the panels and then send the energy back to Earth through a laser. A rectenna, or microwave antenna, then collects the energy. Because the Sun shines continuously and is 36 percent brighter in geostationary orbit (GEO), this enables a solar array to collect ten times the amount of energy as a similar array put at mid-latitude on Earth. This capability allows for a drastic increase in efficiency, gaining more watts per square meter, saving resources and time.
SBSP will not harm Earth’s environment. It will support atmospheric recovery, produce zero carbon emissions, compete with fossil and nuclear power, and work with other renewable energies. The National Space Society has outlined how SBSP can outstrip all other energy sources combined, proposing that solar power extracted from orbit can offer vast amounts of energy with minimal adverse environmental impacts. This has the potential to address present climate change issues regarding energy accessibility, sustainability, and greenhouse gas emissions.
In terms of security, SBSP can supply power to remote and impoverished regions and reduce reliance on unstable foreign energies, such as oil, to enhance self-sufficiency and, thus, national security. Each solar panel might serve numerous markets, supplying power on demand to areas lacking, such as regions in Africa and northern Russia, which can also contribute to greater energy independence. Global security will significantly improve by satisfying these energy needs and security objectives. These ideas are further exemplified in the current National Space Policy’s goals of encouraging competition in global markets, progressing satellite manufacturing and satellite-based services, extending international cooperation, and enhancing space stability.
However, it is essential to recognize the sheer ambition of the project. An SBSP would require input from many high technology industries that would produce exorbitant costs. A significant solar power capability in space would be one to provide the above technologies, supply energy where needed, and strengthen security at a benefit that outweighs the cost.
The high expenses are due to the high cost of launching the panels into space, primarily due to the existing solar panels’ large mass per watt generated. Currently, it costs about $200/watt, or $10,000/kilogram, compared to $2.50/watt for homeowner solar systems, causing a severely disproportionate utility level. In addition, there are enormous transportation expenditures for space. This is because bringing all other items to space would necessitate numerous non-reusable rocket missions. To decrease costs, materials and construction methods should balance efficiency with an economic blueprint. Rapidly reusable launch vehicles must be leveraged in tandem with economies of scale to reduce launch costs. A great deal of research and engineering is required to design the most cost-effective strategy, making SBSP feasible.
But SBSP stands out. As discussed in Peter Garrison’s “Solar Power in Space?”, most renewable energy plans endure low energy density and intermittency, necessitating enormous swaths of land, significant storage, and fossil fuel backup systems, but this is not the case with SBSP systems. They can offer uninterrupted, 24-hour, large-scale power to urban centers when placed in orbit with constant sunlight providing power with no adverse effects. Economic concerns, such as high costs, cannot deter the possibility of extending the life of the Earth and improving life on it.
It is inaccurate to view SBSP as an unachievable dream that risks averting vital resources away from where they are currently most needed. This system is one of the most critical space projects of our generation and is crucial to achieving the United States’ long-term security interests.