Sunday, November 5, 2017

Space Solar - the Future of Energy?

Today, there are many drivers for the development of renewable energy sources, with national defense, rampant over-population of the planet, quality of life for future generations, and concern for the environment all near the top of the list. Yet we seem content to burn the fuels we can gather from our surroundings, much like our ancestral cave-dwellers did for tens of thousands of years before “modern” man’s arrival.

There have been substantial efforts to introduce and make wider use of renewable energy, however, according to the International Energy Agency the world's share of renewable energy in 2012 was just 13.2% and according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the world's consumption of renewable energy in 2015 dropped to 12.5%. Taking into account that these figures include hydro power, which today makes majority of renewables (but has limited potential for growth) the share of solar energy is estimated at 3% or below.

Sun is the most abundant and unlimited source of energy. With the recent advances in technology and mass production solar approaches, and in some instances have reached parity with the traditional sources. Why don't we use it more widely and eliminate the need for fossil fuels completely? The reason is (and similarly for wind) is in its intermittent and unreliable nature, and their uneven availability across different geographical locations. Previously I have written about the Ascent Mobile Energy System (AMES). The module can be delivered to practically any destination, deployed and produce clean energy in autonomous mode. However, even such an advanced integrated system can be challenged to sustain uninterrupted energy production for extended period of time beyond Arctic Circle or in other locations with extreme environments.

There is a technology however which for a long time has been a subject of science fiction only. It is called Space Solar Power, or SSP. The idea of SSP in theory is simple: harvesting virtually unlimited solar energy with orbiting collectors and beaming it to Earth. Unlike terrestrial solar (or wind), the Space Solar is available any time of the day and year, is not subject to weather conditions or obstacles, and - the most important - has no geographical limitations. 

State of technology and humongous cost of its realization, combined with relatively low fuel prices, for a long time hindered its development. Now the technological gap is closing rapidly, and with the growing energy demand and all the challenges meeting it, the cost can be overcome. It became a subject of intense research in recent years and a number of countries have started testing technology in practice. 

The US, Japan, and Russia have all made investments in this area, and the space departments of Canada, Europe, and South Korea are also conducting related research.
However it is China who is expected to be the world's first country to build a practical solar power station in space according to Li Ming, a research fellow from China Academy of Space Technology.
China entered the top ranks in research of space solar power after decades of research which has significantly narrowed the gap with other leading countries.
China has undertaken the research of space solar power since 2008, with a number of major breakthroughs in wireless energy transmission achieved. According to Wang Li, another research fellow with the CAST, experts from both home and abroad agree about China's leading role in this field. Apart from the technology, the construction of the space solar-power station also needs huge investment, broad market and support from government, all three factors China can deliver, unlike other countries.
Space solar power will ease environmental and energy pressure on China, and also expected to spur the country's innovation and emerging industries.
(Source:  China Daily)

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