China Will Build a Space Solar Power Station
China plans to reach a new level of renewable energy production and build a 200-megawatt space solar power station by 2035.
What Is the Key Point?
By 2035, China intends to build an orbital solar power station with a capacity of 200 megawatts. According to Wang Li, a researcher at the Chinese Academy of Space Technology (CAST), an extraterrestrial SES will collect solar energy that never reaches the Earth, convert it into microwaves or laser radiation and then poison it on our planet.
“We hope to strengthen international cooperation in this area and make a scientific and technological breakthrough so that humanity can soon realize the dream of unlimited sources of clean energy,” Wang said.
Compared with traditional energy resources, which harm the environment and are gradually being depleted, as well as ground-based solar parks, space energy can be produced around the clock. Moreover, it is worth to admit that it is several times more efficient, environmentally friendly, and besides, this technology can solve serious issues on electricity satellites, remote and affected by natural disasters areas on Earth.
According to Forbes , currently, scientists need to solve two very important points: how to build a huge space station on Earth, and then launch it into space, or to do all the work in orbit using smart robots and 3D printing. Also, scientists haven’t decided what method of energy transfer will provide maximum efficiency.
The concept of collecting solar energy in space was popularized by science fiction writer Isaac Asimov in 1941. American aerospace engineer Peter Glaser wrote an official proposal to create a solar station in space in 1968.
China has proposed various solutions for collecting sunlight and made several important breakthroughs in the field of wireless energy transmission after the inclusion of space solar power stations in the country as a key research program in 2008.
China is building a test base in the Bishan area of Southwest China to study the powerful wireless energy transfer and its environmental impact. The amount of planned investments in the project is $ 28.4 million.
Researchers in this field will stimulate space science and the country's innovation in emerging industries such as commercial space transportation.
What Does a Project Need?
To test the viability of a solar power plant, a special test kit is being designed that spans an area of almost 13.5 hectares.
It is already known that this complex will be used to demonstrate space transmission technology and study the effect of microwaves radiated back to Earth.
The construction of the test complex will take no more than 2 years, and the initial investment in its construction will amount to approximately $ 15 million.
Immediately after the start of its operation, the construction of tethered balloons equipped with solar panels and designed to test microwave transmission technologies will begin.
These unique balls will accumulate sunlight and convert solar energy into microwave energy.
In turn, already beyond the Earth, receiving stations will turn microwaves into electricity and distribute it on a grid.
The Concept of Space Solar Power Station
The sun is a practically inexhaustible source of energy which is “located” near humanity. Mankind has been hoarding solar energy projects since antiquity, and until the last fifty years, all of them have been distinguished by two main criteria: fundamental possibility and inefficiency. Solar panels were created more than a hundred years ago, but still the number of solar power plants in the total amount of energy supply on our planet is relatively small.
Several serious reasons prevent the widespread proliferation of solar power plants. Firstly, it is the atmosphere and weather phenomena, greatly reducing the efficiency of use. Even on the brightest day, the earth’s atmosphere reduces the amount of sunlight received by the solar cells by at least 36%, but it’s not worth talking about bad weather when the solar cells are practically useless.
Another serious problem is the inability to use solar energy constantly. At night, the power station is again idle, which leads to its high cost. It requires batteries to store the energy generated during the day and a special network of substations to smooth out consumption peaks.
According to the available information, the Chinese have not come up with anything fundamentally new yet. Similar ideas have been put forward by scientists and engineers around the world for over 70 years. In short, it is proposed to put into a near-earth orbit a space station with a large number of solar panels that convert the photon energy of our luminary into direct electric current. Everything is the same as at the International Space Station, only in much larger sizes of the spacecraft and the amount of energy received.
The only fundamental difference is that the orbit of the future power plant should be geostationary, it lies 35 786 km from the Earth’s surface. Then the speed of the power plant will coincide with the rotation of the Earth and the station will be located all the time over one place on the surface of our planet. In the same orbit, communication satellites most often operate broadcasting in a specific region. Besides, such an orbit is also good for a small amount of space debris. At the International Space Station, solar panels fail and lose their efficiency due to damage to solar cells by microscopic particles of space debris.
Thanks to the placement in orbit, outside the action of the dense layers of the earth's atmosphere, the station will be much more efficient than an earth power station of the same size. “If you put solar panels in space, they will work 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 99.9% of the time a year,” says Paul Jaffe, a space engineer at the US Navy Research Laboratory, working on a similar project ordered by the US military.
Since there is no atmosphere in space, solar panels work 36% more efficiently. And because of the lack of nights and bad weather, performance will more than double.
Moreover, the panels face the sun always at the perfect angle. Scientists believe that space solar power station is about eight times more efficient than its terrestrial counterpart.
However, modern estimates show that such power plants will pay off for decades and longer, while there are many alternatives, albeit much less knowledge-intensive ways to receive electricity on Earth.
The Chinese are talking about the possibility of using 3D printing of individual elements directly in orbit to save on launches. Yes, the first space printer that prints objects directly in orbit has been on the International Space Station for several years, and several plastic tools have even been printed with it, but no one has tried to use this method for manufacturing a power plant directly in space. At the same time, the Chinese conducted the first rocket launch from a floating platform and China mobile launch platform bears fruits . Maybe, this time will be a resurgence of gains?