Renewable electricity for all? A solar power plant could revolutionize energy production

Renewable electricity for all A solar power plant could revolutionize

Scientists propose moving closer to the Sun to produce electricity. To provide humanity with clean energy in gigantic quantities.

Solar energy may open up perspectives in terms of clean energy, but it still has its limits. Solar panels require a certain amount of sunlight to be functional. A rate that is difficult to achieve in gray weather or in areas with little sunlight, where night falls very quickly. Not to mention that solar panels are bulky equipment. To respond to this problem, the European Space Agency (ESA) launched the Solaris project. Interviewed by the magazine WiredSanjay Vijendran, head of the project, explains: “We are thinking about the climate crisis and the need to find solutions. What more could space do to help mitigate climate change and no longer just monitor it from above, as we have been doing for several decades?”

The goal of Solaris is to produce solar energy directly from space. With an ambitious device: solar structures in orbit, therefore closer to the Sun, responsible for storing and then redirecting energy towards the Earth. The Solaris project is still in development and the first step will be to carry out a first scale model of a solar power plant in space in 2030. The team hopes to be able to begin construction of a real-size space solar power plant in 2035.

If these first stages go well, the first full-scale infrastructure could be marketed in 2040. In terms of performance, the ESA estimates that this space device could already provide between 10 to 15% of consumption by this date. European energy. And this would only be the beginning: the electricity produced would in fact be eternal and similar devices could multiply. This project could above all help achieve the European Union’s objective of reducing its net carbon emissions to zero by 2050.

According to Wired, ESA scientists are currently evaluating how to keep such an assembly of solar panels in orbit, at a height of more than 30,000 km from Earth and ensure that it remains stationary , despite the rotation of the planet. The magazine recalls that such a project had already been considered in the 1970s and 1980s by NASA and the American Department of Energy, before being abandoned due to the cost and significant technological challenges. The Solaris project was able to develop thanks to the fall in the prices of satellites and photovoltaic equipment, which are more widespread today.

Another major challenge: transporting the solar energy harvested in orbit to the Earth. According to Sanjay Vijendran, the best option would be to convert electricity into microwave radiation. A solution which would involve the construction of a fairly large reception station on the ground. At the same time, the Space Solar Power Project developed by the California Institute of Technology, which is complementary to Solaris, is considering another option. The idea is to create three smaller structures and thus create an orbiting constellation.