Monday, July 22, 2024

Solar energy in space: not science fiction

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to’International Energy Agency (i.e.) repeats it For years: Solar energy will be the new king of electricity. Time proves her right. In 2022, PV generation will be global It grew at a record rate By twenty-six percent The highest among all renewable sources. Moreover, according to the organization’s forecasts, solar energy will soon overtake wind and hydropower dethrone, By 2027, even coal.

Expansion of photovoltaic cells Ease of placement is preferred Solar Panels – Compared, for example, to turbines tens of meters high – and the abundance of the primary source, the sun. But this technology is not without drawbacks: solar gardens. They consume a lot of land And me Depends on the visibility of the sun and its location in the sky. Moreover, at night, when it is cloudy and during the winter, they can Not producing enough or not producing at all.

Send the panels into orbit

However, there is a way to solve these inconveniences. If the panels come Positioned in spaceThey will almost always be exposed to the sun and can produce energy without interruption, Such as nuclear and gas power plants.

Illustration of a solar-powered spaceship, Frank Tinsley (1958)Bateman/Getty Images

The idea, in practical terms, is charging Photovoltaic devices in orbitat an altitude of about 36 thousand kilometers above the Earth, so that they can Continuous energy production And stable. The collected energy will then be sent to the Earth’s surface through a Microwave beam It is converted into electricity by the receiving station, which reduces transmission losses.

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This new technology, also known as Space Solar Power (SBNP) It sounds like science fiction, but it’s not. Also because photovoltaics are a system Associated with space since its inception: In 1958 the United States Army launched Six solar cellsIt was invented four years ago at Bell Laboratories in New Jersey Vanguard 1the second American satellite to be launched into orbit.

Experiments

Tropical solar power stations It is indeed technically possibleSome experiments prove this. in June, California Institute of Technology (Caltech) he have Specific notice to have Successfully, for the first time ever, wirelessly transferring solar energy from space to Earth. Their prototype is called Maplehas a very low flow rate – the electricity obtained is used up Turn on two lamps – But he proved that the system works. A year ago, researchers from Xidian University, In China, they had Tested a model To convert captured sunlight into microwaves and convert them into electricity; But all this is done only at a modest height from the ground.

Japan and India are also involved in studying space solar energy. to’European Space Agency It has been dedicated to this technology Solaris programwhich should make a plan development by 2025. Chinese company Longyis not known to the general public despite playing an essential role in it Producing solar components around the worldhe have He said I don’t want to Send your paintings into space In order to study its performance.

Problems and roles of SpaceX and Blue Origin

one of Main problems of tropical solar energy They are cruel Outer space conditionswhich speeds up Deterioration of panels And reduce its efficiency in a short time, which makes this necessary Frequent maintenance Or replace them. However, sending materials and engineers into orbit is essential Expensive both economically and in terms of emissions. It is true that PV electricity is CO2-free2But the rocket launches necessary to bring panels and other structures into orbit release large amounts of greenhouse gases. However, the use of Heavy vehiclesas Falcon Heavy rocket from SpaceX and New Glenn from Blue OriginWill be allowed Save on the number of shipments And therefore on expenses. As for emissions, their magnitude is difficult to estimate.

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However, we must not forget that either Carbon footprint Subordinate conventional optical On the ground it can be significant, especially regarding production operations. In fact, the Polysilicon manufacturingThe basic material for the plate manufacturing cycle, They are energy intensive And polluting, since it is usually powered by fossil fuels in the world Chinese factories.

And finally – how to explain Matteo Ceriotti, University of Glasgow – Space solar energy poses challenges Security issues Related to microwave waves to transmit energy to Earth. a Microwave beam “They were launched from geostationary orbit and are powerful enough to reach the surface of our planet.”It can damage anything He’s on his wayTo avoid problems of this kind The beam energy density should always be limited.

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