Space-based PV plants: the next big step for photovoltaics
Building solar power plants in space will be possible in the not-so-far future according to the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA). Indeed, JAXA has announced that they have achieved a major technical breakthrough, which would eventually make the construction of space-based solar power plants possible. Concretely, the JAXA team has succeeded in converting and transferring electricity using microwaves for a distance of 55 meters.
JAXA researchers were able, for the first time ever, to send the equivalent of 2 kilowatts of electricity using microwaves towards a small target, using a “directivity control” device.
Research already began in 1998
Already in the 1980s, Japan was aiming to produce electricity at the interstellar level and to transmit it to Earth. Such a technology would simply eliminate the negative effects due to bad weather and “day/night” cycles, which prevent us from fully profiting from solar energy. In this regard, JAXA launched an ambitious project in 2009, after many years of research on the field that began in 1998.
When in space, large photovoltaic modules, just like the ones we use on ground and rooftop mounted solar plants, would convert solar energy into electricity with a capacity 5 to 10 times higher than when on Earth. The produced electric current would then be converted into an energy flow, which would then be transmitted to Earth using laser or microwaves. On Earth, the energy flow would be captured by giant satellite dishes, dedicated to the project, and converted back to electricity.
A video presenting the project was published by the JAXA in 2010:
Clean and inexhaustible energy for our plant directly from space
Because these power plants would be able to produce clean and inexhaustible energy, this technology can help solve our problems consisting of energy shortages and global warming of the plant due to greenhouse gases.
JAXA has, however, reminded us that it will still take decades before we can move to a practical use of this technology. At the earliest in the 2040s, probably later. Indeed, there are still several challenges ahead, including the transport and delivery of the huge infrastructure required in space, its construction and its maintenance.