The efficiency of solar panels has always been an issue. However, this might be about to change. The recent test carried out on solar satellites shows that it might actually be possible to transmit beams of energy from space to power cities on earth.
Microwaves or laser beams could be used to send energy beams from floating solar panels in space. The initial objective is to provide energy to disaster areas or regions, which do not have access to energy. It has also been suggested that swarm of small satellites could provide enough energy to power cities.
On our planet, solar power has evolved slowly due to it initially high price and rather inefficient energy conversion rate. Some researchers from Stratchclyde University have evaluated equipment in space, on the possibility to collect solar energy from panels in space and then transfer this power to earth via lasers or microwaves.
The group of researchers suggests that one day a swarm of solar panel satellites could provide enough energy to power cities.
Of-course, the tiny satellites wouldn’t be a substitute for ordinary power sources for the grid. This is at least the case for the near future. They would as a first-phase act as a source of energy to disaster or outlay regions.
The research at Strathclyde’s department of Mechanical & Aerospace Engineering is being led by Dr. Massimiliano Vasile.
There would need to be a ‘receiver tool’ on earth being able to collect the laser or microwave, and convert it into usable electricity.
There have been several discussions of space solar energy, and new studies confirm that at least small-scale solar space energy collection is feasible.
According to Dr. Massimilano Vasile, it is possible to collect solar power regardless of the weather and time – as in space, solar energy is provided during daytime and nighttime.
For instance, in the Sahara Desert, solar power can easily be captured. However, the bottleneck is, how to transport this energy to the region where it is really needed.
This research on space solar energy is emphazing on removing this hurdles and making it easy to target power to specific locations. The solution is found in using lasers or microwaves to transport energy to earth.
In other words, this is finally a constant source of renewable energy without the obstacle of intermittence and transportability. There wouldn’t even be a need to store energy as the energy from space solar can be generated without any night interruption.
The technology available today, small satellites, could generate sufficient energy to power small villages. However, the aim is to establish large satellites structure, which will be able to collect enough green space solar energy to power large cities, such as London, Tokyo, New York and Singapore.
The group of engineering and science students from Strathclyde University, did last month execute a ‘space web’ experiment, where a rocket was sent to the Arctic Circle, at the border of space. There was also a network of satellites deployed to collect the beam ones sent back to our planet.
The ‘space web’ experiment is called Suaineadh, and does definitely provide significant insight on how to bring solar power projects to the next stage.
The Suaineadh experiment is part of the SAM (Self-inflating Adaptable Membrane) project. The next step is to further place reflectors to harness the solar power. The current structures of the solar satellites are made of self-inflating vacuum, which is able to alter the volume collected through nano-pumps.
The SAM project is part of the NASA Institute for Advanced Concepts (NIAC) study, which is being led by Dr. John Mankins from the Artemis Innovation. From the European side, the University of Strathclyde forms part of the international consortium with American Researchers but led by Professor Nobuyuki Kaya from the University of Kobe, a Japanese professor who is currently the world leader when it comes to wireless power transmission.
Currently, the NIAC study is proving and evaluating the best potential conceptual design to build a large scale solar power satellite. The research team at University of Strathclyde is focusing on the structural element of how to establish orbit control of the satellites.