Solar Power from Space: A Next Step in Renewable Energy


Image Credit: Forbes

Aidan Janney, Staff Writer

Earlier this October, the Air Force Research Lab announced a $100 million project for developing a solar power satellite project. This may not seem like an important development for energy, but it could mean a whole new future for solar power and renewable sources. The Air Force is specifically focusing on “beaming” energy back through Earth’s atmosphere to be collected on the surface. This used to be merely a figment of science-fiction, but recently, the goal of transmitting energy from a satellite back to earth, has become a possible reality.

Previously this year, the Air Force Research Lab conducted a demonstration of the technology involved. The demonstration was two small cubes across from each other; One fired an invisible infrared laser at the other cube’s photovoltaic sensors (solar panel); it produced around 400 watts of energy, enough to power a coffee maker and a few other appliances. The main accomplishment of this technology is that it transfers energy without moving any matter. This demonstration sparked the 100 million dollar project the Air Force is funding now, known as The Space Solar Power Incremental Demonstrations and Research (SSPIDR) Project. This technology could be used in many ways. The military has considered using it to control drones from afar, however the more productive and popular use would be for energy collection and transmission.

The concept being considered right now is a series of satellites in space, that collects uninhibited solar power constantly (not just during the day). Then the satellites could transmit the power back to collection areas on earth, avoiding the costly act of launching matter into space or back to earth.

The resources and technology needed to complete this project have existed for a while, as far back as 1975, when NASA beamed over 30,000 watts of power further than a mile. However, at the time, NASA didn’t have the budget to pursue space solar power and the military wasn’t interested either; until this year that the US government showed renewed interest in space based solar power.

These new developments in solar power and renewable energy could be the next step towards creating a completely renewable energy based society, by increasing the effectiveness of solar power and increasing interest in the overall subject of clean energy.