Space Based Solar Power! Need or a Scam?
We are living in an era of all the science fictions becoming a reality. Everything that we once thought of as just a concept of a science fiction movie is now slowly turning into an actual deal. The space travels, the mission to the Mars, AI, just everything. Now, who might have thought that we will be planning to set up our solar power stations in space in terms of generating Space based Solar Power. Yes! That’s true, we are up for that.
What is the Space Based Solar Power?
In simple words, Space based Solar Power is a concept of setting solar panels in the space to collect solar power and transmit them to earth through a microwave beam or laser. The SBSP mainly consist of 3 elements that vary according to the different concepts and designs.
At first, there will be solar panels connected to a receiver and transmitter in the space orbit. They will receive the sunlight and will convert the electricity into the radio waves as per the initial concept. The radio waves will then be transferred through the atmosphere to a receiving station on the earth. The waves will then be converted to usable electricity.
How it all started?
As always, it all started as a science fiction story. In 1941, Isaac Asimov, a science fiction writer published a science fiction short story named “Reason”. In that story, a Space station was used to collect the energy from the sun, and then transmit it to the planets using the microwave beam. It was only in the story till 1973. In 1973, after few initial research and study on the concept, a scientist named Peter Glaser was granted the patent for the similar kind of design. Since then, there has been a tremendous amount of growth in terms of research and studies related to SBSP or SSP, called Space Based Solar Power or Space Solar Power respectively. Many countries like USA, Japan, China has been trying to achieve technology and are planning to achieve that impossible.
Do we really need the Space based Solar power, or is it just a scam?
Source: explaining the future
To actually unde rstand if we really need to establish the solar panels in the space or not, we actually need to look at the downside and upside of it.
Advantages of Space Based Solar Power: –
- The 24-hour sunlight: – Due to being established at a certain distance from the earth, and rotating at its own orbit, space solar power stations will be able to receive sunlight 24 hours a day, irrespective of the Night and day. The solar stations on the earth are only able to receive sunlight during the day time.
- No Atmospheric loss: – The main drawback of the Earth-Based Solar Panels is that they do not get the whole piece of the sunlight. The Atmosphere of the earth eats a lot of it. In the case of Space based Solar Power, it will catch the sunlight well before the atmosphere, thus, getting 100% of it.
- A lot of free ground on earth and no harm to the animals and birds: – As setting up the Solar Plant on the earth consumes a large amount of land. Also, the heat produced by the solar panels in the surroundings harms the animals of the region and also the birds passing by. That won’t be the case with the Solar Panels in the space.
- No Seasonal disturbance: – The Solar Panels in the space won’t be disturbed by the changes in the season or the cloudy atmosphere.
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Disadvantages of Space based Solar Power: –
- The loss in conversion: – No doubt that the Solar panels in the space will be able to generate twice the electricity compared to those on the Earth. But it will suffer the double conversion i.e. from sunlight to microwaves, and then from microwaves to the Electricity. During the double conversion, it will suffer around 40% of loss in the electricity, that will result in only half of the originally generated electricity being used. So that means, in the end, we will be left with the comparatively similar amount of power generated by the Solar Plants on earth.
- The Cost and Convenience: – The project of setting a Solar Power station in space will cost us no less than trillions of dollars. It will require no less than a million flights to the space to transport all the necessary parts to make a Solar Station to provide enough power. Also, we still do not have rockets to transport such heavy parts at the required frequency.
- The Potential Damage in Space: – Even after spending so much on it, the solar panels in the space can be at high risk of damage. The space debris, Space junk, meteors, and extreme solar radiation can damage the solar panels very easily.
- Transmission problems: – The transmission of electricity in form of microwave beam or laser can be potential harm to the atmosphere and living beings including animals. Also, there will be a good amount of energy loss during the transmission.
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There might be many advantages of setting the Solar panels in space, but there is an equal number of disadvantages also.
Elon Musk, the founder of Tesla, Space X, and The Boring Company stated in an interview. “Being an owner of a Space shuttle and Solar power manufacturing company, I should be the happiest person due to this project, but the Space based Solar Power just doesn’t make sense to me”. He further continued by saying “It is not that difficult to understand that due to the double conversion, we will be generating the power only equal to what we are generating through the solar panels on the earth, so what is the sense of spending so much”.
It will be wrong to say that Space Based solar power is just a waste of time. But, as of now, with the kind of technology we have, there is no meaning of jumping on to create something so expensive and not that fruitful.