Kwasi Kwarteng has ordered civil servants to start research work on orbiting space solar farms in a step towards an unconventional net-zero initiative.
The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy is developing “key technologies associated with space-based solar power”, the Business Secretary said.
Advocates of solar space farms believe they could provide renewable, round-the-clock energy that is wirelessly beamed to earth and fed into the grid.
A government-commissioned report last year said that a giant system to be assembled in space could provide equivalent power to a nuclear plant, and that space-based solar could provide a quarter of the country’s electricity needs.
In evidence submitted to the science and technology committee, Mr Kwarteng said: “Following the publication of this study, my department is developing a small-scale ‘no-regrets’ innovation programme to support the development of key technologies associated with SBSP, and that also have broader terrestrial applications, and therefore, will contribute to the UK’s net zero ambition whether a space based solar power system is deployed or not.”
He said the Government had invited organisations to submit proposals on work that could contribute to the programme.
Mr Kwarteng wrote that space-based solar power “presents an exciting opportunity for the UK to lead in a new market, enhance our energy security, and contribute to UK net zero”.
A system has been estimated to deliver electricity at £50 per megawatt hour, compared to £44 for onshore wind and £41 for offshore wind, but Mr Kwarteng said that the project could have other advantages.
“There are broader economic benefits for the UK to pursue the development of space-based solar power, with a favourable GDP multiplier and benefit-cost ratio. In addition, the development could lead to substantial spill-over benefits,” he wrote.
He added that the UK was assessing interest from other countries in the project, which would be likely to be an international endeavour.
Projections for an orbiting solar farm envision it being launched in thousands of pieces and assembled in space by robots.
The structure would be around 1,700m tall, and relay the power using high-frequency radio waves to a giant net on the earth’s surface.