Space Solar Power – Change how the World Works
The completion of the 162 MW Solar Farm in Australia is a big milestone, but we can do better from Space. The UK could take a lead, secure ESA investment, and deliver a first of a kind Space system and change how the World works.
The Earth receives 173,000 terawatts of solar energy, 10,000 times the World's needs, but Earth-based surface collection suffers from diurnal variation, cloud obscuration, atmospheric dissipation and requires vast arrays of panels. However, if captured in Geosynchronous orbit, where the Sun is visible 99% of the time, energy could be delivered all day, every day and in all weathers. Light-weight solar panels can collect energy, the satellite can convert it into microwaves and beam it securely to a fixed point on Earth where it would be converted into electricity at around 70% energy efficiency. Satellites could reach many ground stations, allowing energy export and regional redistribution at times of need (disasters, severe winters, carbon crises), and could remove carbon extractives for energy and help transition the Earth to NetZero.
There are hurdles in the way - tech design, capability maturity, launch price point reduction and on-orbit structure development, but none are insuperable. These are all areas where the UK has a natural skill base, the appetite for leadership and the Climate Change ambition to be first. Just back from the Ministerial where ESA set the Solaris programme as an ambition with a decision in CM25, George Freeman MP and Graham Stuart could set UK industry on a path to lead this work. We now need National clarity and energy – a Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) mission, UK Space Agency catalysis of activity, UKspace corralling industry, sector crowding of patient market capital and Enterprise excitement over the benefits and opportunity from involvement.
Space-based solar power is technically feasible, increasingly affordable, an exciting investment opportunity and could bring substantial economic benefits and drive the UK to NetZero well inside 2050. Bringing this to life needs brains, cash and clear-sighted leadership from HMG, industry and investors – the UK has these in abundance, but the clock is ticking and others might beat us to it.