The UK has recently taken a significant step towards a future powered by clean energy with Energy Secretary, Grant Shapps unveiling a £4.3m investment plan aimed at bolstering research in the realm of space-based solar energy.
This announcement comes at the heels of a government-led innovation contest, paving the way for a potentially groundbreaking domain of technological exploration.
Space-Based Solar Energy: A Glimpse into the Future
Space-based solar energy is an innovative approach to harnessing the Sun’s power. It involves deploying satellites into orbit, equipped with solar panels, to collect solar energy. This energy is then transmitted back to Earth using wireless technology. Given that these satellites can capture sunlight 99 per cent of the time, they hold the promise of a highly dependable source of renewable energy, provided the technology delivers on its potential.
The Funding Announcement
The UK government’s funding is set to benefit several entities, including prominent institutions like Cambridge University and Queen Mary University in London. These establishments are at the forefront of research and development in the field of space-based solar energy. The funding announcement, made by Energy Security Secretary Grant Shapps, was a highlight of the recent London Tech Week.
The Projects Underway
Cambridge University researchers are focusing their efforts on developing ultra-lightweight solar panels capable of withstanding the high-radiation conditions of space. On the other hand, Queen Mary University in London is working on a system to efficiently transmit the collected solar energy back to Earth.
The Potential Impact of Space-Based Solar Power
A 2021 independent study found that space-based solar power could account for up to 10GW of electricity generation capacity by 2050. This could potentially fulfill a quarter of the UK’s power needs. Moreover, the study highlighted the potential for this technology to give birth to a multi-billion-pound industry, creating up to 143,000 jobs across the country.
Global Interest in Space-Based Solar Power
The UK is not alone in its pursuit of space-based solar power. Other nations, including Japan and the United States, are also exploring this promising technology. Earlier this month, researchers at the California Institute of Technology reported a significant achievement – the successful transmission of solar power to Earth from space.
The Impact on Fossil Fuel Dependency and Household Bills
Space-based solar power offers a potential solution to mitigate the world’s reliance on fossil fuels. By providing a consistent source of solar power throughout the year, this technology could significantly reduce household energy bills. However, it’s important to note that this technology is still in the early stages of development.
The Intersection of Space Technology and Solar Energy
According to Dr Mamatha Maheshwarappa, Payload Systems Lead at the UK Space Agency, space technology and solar energy have a shared history. The need to power satellites was instrumental in enhancing solar panel efficiency, which now generates electricity for homes and businesses. The UK Space Agency has contributed £1m to these innovative projects to help advance this revolutionary concept.
The Roadblocks to Renewable Energy
While space-based solar power presents an exciting prospect, some experts argue the need for more immediate action in the form of onshore wind and solar power within the UK. The IPPR think tank has criticised the UK’s planning system as unfit for building a net-zero world and has called for the removal of restrictions on onshore wind and solar power.
The UK’s commitment to space-based solar power indicates its willingness to explore unconventional avenues in the pursuit of clean energy. As the technology matures, it has the potential to revolutionize the way we power our homes and businesses, leading to a greener and more sustainable future. However, it is equally crucial to address the existing challenges in harnessing renewable energy sources on Earth.
With this £4.3m investment, the UK has taken a bold step towards winning the new space race. It’s an exciting time for both the space and energy sectors, as they come together to develop space-based solar power, promising a future where power generation could literally be out of this world.