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Solar farms in space ‘could supply a reliable source of renewable energy to the grid’

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Solar parks in space could be a reliable source of renewable energy for the grid and provide an alternative to nuclear power in the future, experts argue.

The European Space Agency (ESA) is investigating a plan that would take advantage of the fact that the sun never stops shining in space, and sunlight is much more intense there than on Earth’s surface.

It would involve assembling a satellite several miles long in orbit with a solar panel — which would be illuminated by the sun more than 99 percent of the time.

The energy would be beamed back to Earth via high-frequency radio waves and power would be produced day and night, regardless of the weather on our planet’s surface.

Proponents of the idea say a single plant can supply about two gigawatts of renewable energy to the grid, which is about the same as a nuclear power plant here on Earth.

Technology: Solar parks in space could be a reliable source of renewable energy for the grid and offer an alternative to nuclear power in the future, experts argue

The energy would be beamed back to Earth via high-frequency radio waves (as shown above)

The energy would be beamed back to Earth via high-frequency radio waves (as shown above)

SUN: THE BASIS

The sun is the star at the heart of the solar system, a near-perfect sphere of hot plasma, radiating energy.

It has a diameter of 1.39 million km and is 330,000 times the mass of the Earth.

Three quarters of the star is made of hydrogen, followed by helium, oxygen, carbon, neon and iron.

It is a G-type main sequence star and is sometimes referred to as a yellow dwarf.

The sun was formed by the gravitational collapse of matter in a large molecular cloud that gathered in the center.

The rest flattened into an orbiting disk that formed everything else.

Facts and numbers

Name: Sun

known planets: Eight

Spectral type: G2

Distance to Earth: 150 million km

Distance from galactic center: 25,800 light years

Mass: 1.9885×10^30 kg

Ray: 696,342 km

Brightness: 3.828×10^26W

Temperature: 9,929 F

Age: 4.6 billion years

Recent studies suggest that the concept, called space-based solar, is theoretically workable and could support the path to decarbonising the energy sector.

However, experts say there are still significant uncertainties and technical challenges, which is why a research and development program known as SOLARIS has been proposed.

The physics involved means that these satellites should be large, about several kilometers in size, and the same goes for the collecting “rectennas” on the Earth’s surface.

This, in turn, would require technical advances in areas such as space manufacturing and robotic assembly, high-efficiency photovoltaics, high-power electronics, and radio-frequency beamforming.

Further research to confirm the effects of low-power microwaves on human and animal health and compatibility with aircraft and satellites should also be conducted.

But the technology could offer ‘an alternative to nuclear power’, says Dr Sanjay Vijendran, who studies it for ESA.

“Technical questions like these will be explored by SOLARIS to further explore the feasibility of the concept so that Europe can make an informed decision by 2025 on whether or not to proceed with a Space-Based Solar Power program in the future,” he added. .

“As an added plus, any breakthroughs achieved in these areas will be valuable in their own right, applicable to many other space efforts.

“The mistake often made is to compare the concept to solar on the ground, while solar in space offers new features such as base load power that actually serves to supplement rather than compete with intermittent sources such as ground sun.” and wind.

Recent studies suggest that the concept, called space-based solar, is theoretically workable and could support the path to decarbonising the energy sector

Recent studies suggest that the concept, called space-based solar, is theoretically workable and could support the path to decarbonising the energy sector

Proponents of the idea say a single plant can supply about two gigawatts of renewable energy to the grid, which is about the same as a nuclear power plant here on Earth.

Proponents of the idea say a single plant can supply about two gigawatts of renewable energy to the grid, which is about the same as a nuclear power plant here on Earth.

“In that sense, they could provide an alternative to nuclear power in the future — where studies show the space-based solution is surprisingly competitive.”

The program proposal comes to a point where global interest in solar energy in space is at its highest in decades, with demonstrations in space being prepared in the US, China and Japan.

The UK has launched its Space Energy Initiative to develop space-based solar power, while the European Commission is funding a project investigating large lightweight reflectors that redirect sunlight to ground-based solar farms called SOLSPACE.

“Given the climate and energy crises and the rapid progress we are making in space capabilities, now is the time to explore whether space-based solar energy can be part of the solution – it’s the responsible thing to do,” added Dr. Viendran to it. .

A report by engineering firm Frazer-Nash has estimated that a first space-based solar power plant could be online by 2040 at a cost of around £16 billion.

After that, each additional satellite could cost about £5 billion, the report added.

It estimates that these would deliver power at £50 per MWh, which is roughly the same as other renewable sources.

The 3.2GW Sizewell C nuclear power station in Suffolk, meanwhile, is expected to cost £20-30 billion and will be capable of generating electricity for six million homes for up to 60 years.

SOLAR ENERGY EXPLAINED: ENERGY IS CONVERTED FROM SUNLIGHT INTO ELECTRICITY

Solar panels convert energy from the sun into electrical power (stock image)

Solar panels convert energy from the sun into electrical power (stock image)

Solar energy is the conversion of energy from sunlight into electricity.

There are two methods of generating solar energy.

Photovoltaic solar cells — the kind of solar panel you might see built into a calculator — are capable of converting light directly into electrical current.

However, in concentrated solar systems, mirrors or lenses are first used to catch and focus the sunlight falling on a large area — creating heat that can be used to drive a steam turbine and generate electricity.

The productivity of solar panels is dependent on the sunlight they receive in a particular location – a factor that depends on both latitude and climate.

Optimal locations for solar parks are the arid tropics and subtropics, with deserts that lie at such low latitudes and are often cloudless and receive about 10 hours of sunlight each day.

According to NASA, the eastern part of the Sahara – the Libyan desert – is the sunniest place on Earth.

Solar energy accounted for 1.7 percent of global electricity production in 2017 and is growing at 35 percent each year.

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