The concept of wireless power is not new; it goes back to Nikola Tesla and the dawn of the 20th century. Tesla could not secure investment for his project leading to its abandonment. It appears solar power captured in space, which sounds more like science fiction than science-fact, could soon be receiving the investment necessary to bring this innovative technology closer to commercial implementation.
The basic technology in question is not completely new. Space-based solar power systems utilize photovoltaic cells which convert incoming sunlight into electricity, just as they do on Earth. The electricity is then converted into microwave energy and transmitted from antennas in space in a coherent beam to a targeted location on Earth. The microwaves are then converted back to electricity for distribution into the electrical grid.
There are technological hurdles to overcome. For example, a transmitter currently being studied would be approximately 1.5 km in radius while the receiver (35,000 km away on Earth) would be about 6 km in diameter. Neither component is manufactured as of yet. However, the UK government commissioned the completion of a report which found space-based solar power is technically feasible, economically competitive, and well-aligned with UK government priorities.
Further, space solar power would not encounter the drawbacks of wind or solar power, it would function day and night because the solar array in space would be far enough away to avoid the Earth’s shadow.
With renewed public and private interest space-based solar power could be set to make up an innovative part of the energy mix of the next century.
Space-based solar power is technically feasible, economically competitive, and well aligned with UK government priorities.