Image via the BBC
There's nothing new about the idea of generating solar power from panels set up in space--but the notion has lost little of its luster since first being proposed some 30 years ago. And now, according to the BBC, Europe's biggest space company is now actively seeking partners in a plan to send a demonstration solar power mission into orbit. EADS Astrium has developed a satellite system equipped with solar panels that would transmit the sun's energy back to earth via infrared laser.The benefits of having solar power in space are obvious--it could provide a constant influx of energy 24/7. No pesky nighttime or intrusive cloud cover up there, after all. And the potential for energy generation is far greater, as well. The BBC reports:
The amount of energy falling on photovoltaic cells placed in orbit is considerably greater than the same solar panels positioned on the Earth's surface. In space, the incidence of light is unaffected by clouds, dust or the filtering effects of atmospheric gases.
But of course, the obstacles are obvious as well--starting with the cost of "launching and assembling large solar stations in orbit". Concerns of how efficient such a system would be, and how safe--previous concepts have involved the use of more dangerous microwaves--are also omnipresent. But the BBC notes that "Astrium says the latter can be addressed by using infrared lasers which, if misdirected, would not risk "cooking" anyone in their path."
Their infrared transmission laser has been tested in labs, and is so far a success. The real key remains efficiently converting the infrared light into electricity: "The principle is to get a very high efficiency of conversion of the infrared [laser light] into electricity. If we achieve 80% then it's a real winner," said Robert Laine, Astrium's chief technology officer.
It's no doubt an intriguing prospect--and it may help determine whether space solar becomes a feasible part of the clean energy oeuvre.