Photovoltaic panels in space: a hypothesis for the future

Elizabeth Smith

The technologies necessary to be able to do without fossil fuels in everyday life already exist. Of course, there are still many open questions today, linked from time to time to the accumulation of energy generated by renewable sources, which are typically inconstant, to the replacement of classic fuels in the field of heavy transport, to the rare minerals necessary to materialize the energy transition, and so on.

But there is no doubt. Current technologies allow the abandonment of fossil fuels, which must be undertaken as soon as possible and fully.

The advantages of photovoltaic panels in space

We all know what the peculiarities of photovoltaic solar energy systems are. By means of panels, these systems allow the energy of the sun’s rays to be transformed into clean electrical energy, knowing however that the radiation is not constant.

In fact, a bright sky or a night sky does not allow the production of electricity, and this is the main limitation of photovoltaics. But this is precisely a “terrestrial” limit. Photovoltaic panels in space, orbiting around the Earth and correctly positioned, could always enjoy the Sun’s rays, without fearing either clouds or the sunset.

Of course, there are many other obstacles, from the technologies needed to launch and “create” a photovoltaic system in space to the costs, up to the ways of transmitting energy to Earth. But, apparently, all this could be resolved in the next few years.

Solar energy in space according to astronaut Tim Peake

The European Space Agency (ESA) has been toying with the hypothesis of launching photovoltaic panels into space for some years, carrying out various investigations to understand the feasibility of the thing and its convenience.

The idea, apparently, is to propose a business case to the European Union by 2025. The British astronaut Tim Peake explained in broad terms what the situation is in terms of costs and feasibility.

ESA has calculated that, for the construction of solar plants in space to be considered financially feasible, the cost of launches will have to be equal to or less than $1,000 per kilo.

Currently, Peake explained, we are talking about 2,700 dollars per kilo, explaining however that the rockets designed by SpaceX, Elon Musk’s company, are leading to a clear cut in costs.

“Carrying out launches with the Falcon Heavy allows us to reduce the price to around 1,500 dollars per kilo. While with the Starship rockets the figure could be reduced by a further 300 dollars” explained Peake.

And in fact Musk’s Falcon Heavy rockets have already been used in recent years to bring hardware into space, obviously starting with satellites. Prices are also reduced by the fact that side boosters and central core are programmed to return intact, so they can be reused.

Having said that, ESA’s project is to launch photovoltaic panels into space programmed to be automatically connected once they arrive at their destinatio. This space solar farm could then send the electricity generated to the mainland via microwaves, finally collected by special ground stations.

Read also: The world’s largest solar power plant will soon be ready in the UAE

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