A solar power plant in space? The UK wants to build one by 2035. (2023)

By Tereza Pultarova

published

The U.K. is getting serious about beaming solar power.

A solar power plant in space? The UK wants to build one by 2035. (1)

The United Kingdom is getting serious about beaming solar power from space and thinks it could have a demonstrator in orbit by 2035.

Over 50 British technology organizations, including heavyweights such as aerospace manufacturer Airbus, Cambridge University and satellite maker SSTL, have joined the U.K. Space Energy Initiative, which launched last year in a quest to explore options for developing a space-based solar power plant.

(Video) UK wants to build a solar power plant in Space

The initiative believes that beaming electricity from space using the sun could help the U.K. meet its target of zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 more cost-effectively than many existing technologies. The requirement to stop carbon emissions entirely by mid-century is part of global efforts to halt progressing climate change outlined at the United Nations' COP 26 summit that took place in Glasgow in November 2021.

Speaking at the Toward a Space Enabled Net-Zero Earth conference held in London, the initiative's chairman Martin Soltau said on April 27 that all technology required to develop a space-based solar power plant already exists; the challenge is the scope and size of such a project.

Related: Solar power stations in space could be the answer to our energy needs

The initiative bases its plans on an extensive engineering study conducted by consultancy Frazer-Nash and commissioned by the U.K. government last year.

"The study concluded that this is technically viable and doesn't require any breakthroughs in laws of physics, new materials, or component technology," Soltau said.

The initiative has established a 12-year development plan that could see a demonstrator power plant, assembled by robots in orbit, beam gigawatts of power from space to Earth as early as 2035, Soltau said.

The initiative explores a modular concept called CASSIOPeiA (opens in new tab) (for Constant Aperture, Solid-State, Integrated, Orbital Phased Array), developed by the British engineering firm International Electric Company.

The modular nature of the orbiting power plant means it could be expanded after the demonstration phase. Even the demonstrator, however, would be giant, several miles across, and require 300 launches of a rocket the size of SpaceX Starship to deliver to orbit, said Soltau. It would orbit 22,000 miles above our planet (36,000 kilometers) with a constant view of the sun as well as of Earth.

A solar power plant in space? The UK wants to build one by 2035. (2)

"The principal functions of the satellite are collecting the solar energy via large, lightweight mirrors and concentrating optics onto photovoltaic cells, just like we do on Earth," said Soltau. "They produce direct current electricity, that's then converted into microwaves via solid state radio frequency power amplifiers and transmitted in a coherent microwave beam down to Earth."

However, CASSIOPeiA would produce much more electricity than any terrestrial solar power plant of a similar size. Compared to a solar panel placed on Earth in the U.K., an identical solar panel in space would harvest over 13 times more energy, Soltau said. In addition to that, a space-based solar power plant would not suffer from the intermittency problem, which plagues most renewable power generation on Earth. Sun doesn't always shine on our planet and the wind doesn't blow consistently. That means alternative electricity generators or battery storage have to be in place to prevent blackouts in unfavorable weather. Space, on the other hand, would provide consistent power output.

(Video) The UK wants to build a massive solar power plant in space

On top of that, technologies that would make the electricity system work based only on Earth-based renewable power do not yet exist.

"Energy storage technology doesn't exist yet at the right price and scale," said Soltau. "We need other technologies, because we don't have a plan that adds up. Net- zero will be very difficult and space-based solar power can deliver an interesting option."

The U.K. can cover over 40% of its current electricity needs by renewable power, but the demand for clean energy is set to triple over the next three decades, according to Soltau, as transport and heating infrastructure wean off fossil fuels.

To meet such a demand with offshore wind farms, the type of renewable technology currently making the greatest contribution to the U.K.'s energy mix, would require "a band of turbines 10 kilometers [6.2 miles] wide around the entire mainland coast of Britain," according to Soltau.

The footprint of the ground-based infrastructure needed for the orbiting solar power plant would be much smaller.

To receive the energy from space, the system would need a giant Earth-based antenna, dubbed the rectenna. The rectenna receives the microwave radiation sent from space and converts it into direct current electricity, which is used for high-voltage transmission.

"The rectenna is like a big open net with small dipole antennas and would have to be 7 by 13 kilometers [4.3 to 8 miles] in size," Soltau said. "That's very large, but in the U.K. context, it would occupy only about 40% of the area of an equivalent solar farm."

Speaking at the same conference, Andrew Ross Wilson, an aerospace engineering researcher at the University of Strathclyde in Scotland, agreed that a space-based solar power station is a realistic conception.

"The concept has been around since the 1960s," he said, adding that among the challenges to make such a plant work is the question of what would happen with the giant structure after it reaches its end of life.

"We need to try and look at in-orbit recycling to actually go towards a more circular economy," he said.

Related stories:

Space solar power project got off the ground with billionaire's $100 million donation
10 devastating signs of climate change satellites can see from space
Carbon footprint of huge astronomy observatories raises climate change concerns

(Video) अब आसमान में बनेगी बिजली | Britain planned to setup solar plant in space 2035 | in Hindi

The public might be concerned about the potential radiation from this beamed electricity, but according to Ross, the risk is negligible.

"You're more likely to receive more radiation from the phone in your pocket than you would if you were standing under one of the beams," he said.

Soltau added that the plan has gathered support in the U.K. government as well as among energy experts.

"Space based solar power features in the National Space Strategy," he said. "And there's an initial £3 million [$3.7 million] for developing some of the underpinning technologies as part of the net-zero innovation portfolio."

Follow Tereza Pultarova on Twitter @TerezaPultarova. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.

Join our Space Forums to keep talking space on the latest missions, night sky and more! And if you have a news tip, correction or comment, let us know at: community@space.com.

Tereza is a London-based science and technology journalist, aspiring fiction writer and amateur gymnast. Originally from Prague, the Czech Republic, she spent the first seven years of her career working as a reporter, script-writer and presenter for various TV programmes of the Czech Public Service Television. She later took a career break to pursue further education and added a Master's in Science from the International Space University, France, to her Bachelor's in Journalism and Master's in Cultural Anthropology from Prague's Charles University.She worked as a reporter at the Engineering and Technology magazine, freelanced for a range of publications including Live Science, Space.com, Professional Engineering, Via Satellite and Space News and served as a maternity cover science editor at the European Space Agency.

More about tech robots

This is the way... to get Lego Mandalorian sets for 20% off during Black FridayGet your sci-fi fix with HBO Max at $1.99 a month for three months

Latest

Completely transform a room for less than $20: The perfect gift for space lovers
(Video) Could Solar Panels in Space Solve all Our Energy Needs?
See more latest►

FAQs

Which country has decided to build a solar power plant in space? ›

China to set up first solar power plant in space by 2028

The project is already in its initial stages and the agency aims to launch it by 2028, two years ahead of the earlier estimated time.

How much power is it possible to get out of a solar farm in the UK per year on average? ›

Based on the average annual consumption of a household, for every 5 MW installed, a solar farm will power approximately 1,500 homes for a year.

Can we build solar panels in space? ›

While space-based solar power is an innovative concept, we are not able to fully launch a system into space yet. Launching a space-based solar system is very expensive. In fact, the cost is estimated to be about 100 times too high to compete with current utility costs.

How does space power station work? ›

The space-based solar power system uses a solar power satellite – an enormous spacecraft equipped with solar panels. These panels generate electricity, which is then wirelessly transmitted to Earth through high-frequency radio waves.

Which country produces largest solar energy in the world 2022? ›

China- 340 GW

China's solar prowess is staggering. With a whopping 340 GW, the country is the largest producer of solar energy in the world. In the first six months of 2022, the nation has deployed more than 30.88 GW of Solar PV systems.

Where is the world's largest solar power plant being built? ›

Location: Rajasthan, India

Bhadla Solar Park is the largest solar farm in the world. The facility, spanning over an area of 14000 acres, is located in the Jodhpur district of Rajasthan. The solar farm has a capacity of 2.25 GW and required an estimated investment of over 1.3 billion dollars.

How much does it cost to build a solar farm UK? ›

The 1 MW Solar Farm would cost £715,000 to build and produce 260 tonnes of renewable energy a year. It would cost £35,800 a year to run, but would save the council £130,000 a year on energy bills from 2021/22.

Is solar energy successful in UK? ›

Solar panels work well in the UK, just as they do elsewhere in the world. Despite being a common thought, it's a misconception that you need to live somewhere with continual, year-round sunshine in order to benefit from solar energy.

How much does a 1 acre solar farm cost UK? ›

The average value for an acre of UK farmland in 2022 is between £7,500 and £10,000, although plots can easily exceed this depending on location and accessibility.

Is solar better in space? ›

In space, there is no atmosphere, so the sun's light is undiluted. And as the aerospace engineers at the beginning of the space race found, put a solar panel in orbit and it will automatically generate about twice as much power as the equivalent panel on Earth.

How much does solar building cost? ›

Solar farm installation costs are typically between $0.89 to $1.01 per watt. That means that a 1 megawatt (MW) solar farm would cost between $890,000 and $1.01 million. These figures are based on the SEIA's average national cost figures in Q4 2021.

How much does it cost to build a solar system? ›

According to the Center for Sustainable Energy, the average cost for solar panels is $3–$5 per watt, totaling $15,000–$20,000 for a typical 5 kilowatt (kW) system. Learn which factors impact cost before reaching out to solar companies near you, plus get information about cost-saving tax credits and incentives.

How expensive is space-based solar power? ›

Launch costs
1 kg/kW20 kg/kW
$1/kg (Minimum cost at ~$0.13/kWh power, 100% efficiency)$4M$80M
$2000/kg (ex: Falcon Heavy)$8B$160B
$10000/kg (ex: Ariane V)$40B$800B

How long will space station be used? ›

As of 2022, the space station has been in orbit for an impressive 21 years. As NASA and its partners originally planned to decommission after 15 years, the space station is long past its original due date. Even with mounting safety concerns, NASA has decided to extend the lifespan of the space station until 2031.

What is the best power source in space? ›

Energy from the Sun (solar power)

The electricity from the solar panels charges a battery in the spacecraft. These batteries can power the spacecraft even when it moves out of direct sunlight. Solar energy has also been used to power spacecraft on Mars.

Which country is rich in solar energy? ›

Top 10 countries by cumulative solar PV capacity in 2021
20162020
Country or territoryNewTotal
China34,540254,355
European Union152,917
United States14,73075,572
20 more rows

What does the future of solar energy look like? ›

The Solar Futures Study finds that solar energy could power about 14% of transportation end uses by 2050. Solar PV couples well to electric vehicle (EV) charging: Both use direct-current electricity, which avoids efficiency losses in conversion to alternating-current electricity—a much as 26% lost, in some cases.

Where is the biggest solar farm in the UK? ›

At 72.2MWp, Shotwick Solar Park is the largest solar park in the UK and the largest private wire connection in the UK. Located in Deeside, Flintshire, the solar park supports the UPM paper manufacturing plant which operates 24/7 and manufactures 100% recycled paper.

What are the advantages of solar energy? ›

Pros of Solar Energy:
  • Reduced electric bill.
  • Insurance against rising energy costs.
  • Cheaper power source.
  • Return on investment.
  • Environmentally friendly.
  • Energy independence.
5 Oct 2020

What country in the world is the largest solar market? ›

As of 2021, China has the largest solar energy capacity in the world at 306,973 megawatts (MW), which produces roughly 4.8%-6% of the country's total energy consumption.

Does solar pay for itself in UK? ›

The soaring price of electricity means a domestic solar panel system can now pay for itself in as little as seven years, and the way things are going, that could go down to five years.

Can I build a solar farm UK? ›

(4-5 large solar panels) require planning permission. This means that all solar farms require planning permission. In order to get approval for solar farms in the UK, a series of rigorous planning procedures must be passed before work can begin.

How much does it cost for solar panels UK? ›

Solar panels typically cost between £3,500 and £7,300 for residential installations, according to data sourced from the Energy Saving Trust, though they can cost as much as £9,000. The average three-bedroom house usually requires a £5,420 system, which consists of 10 panels and requires around 20m² of roof space.

Is UK sunny enough for solar? ›

Contrary to what many would think, despite its reputation for having grey and cloudy weather, the UK has more than enough sunlight to power solar panels. It actually gets the same amount of solar energy as certain areas in France or Spain, which are meant to have more Mediterranean climate.

Why is solar energy good for the UK? ›

Solar electricity is low carbon, renewable energy. A typical home solar PV system could save around one tonne of carbon per year, depending on where you live in the UK.

Who is the biggest solar company in the UK? ›

Project Solar the UK's No. 1 Solar Company | Project Solar UK.

How much money can we make in a year in a 1 MW solar plant? ›

Income from 1 MW Solar PV Plant
ParticularsDescription
Daily units generated4000 Units
Yearly units generated4000×365=14,60,000 units
Govt. pays per unit3.85 ₹/unit [According to Central Electricity Regulatory Commission (CERC)]
Total income over the year₹56,21,000
1 more row
1 Oct 2022

How many solar farms are in the UK? ›

There are also currently just under 500 solar farms operating in the UK, which provide clean energy to the Grid.

How much is a solar farm worth? ›

MCG Quantity Surveyors were recently commissioned to provide feasibility costing on a Large Scale Solar Farm in NSW. The total cost of the development came to $9,848,025. The five-megawatt, 16,000-panel farm produces electricity that is fed back into the grid. This Solar farm project costs total – $1.96 per watt.

Is solar good for the environment? ›

As a renewable source of power, solar energy has an important role in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and mitigating climate change, which is critical to protecting humans, wildlife, and ecosystems. Solar energy can also improve air quality and reduce water use from energy production.

Why solar is better than electric? ›

Although solar equipment can be more expensive initially, the main reason that people choose solar power instead of electricity is the cost savings. Solar energy is very efficient and able to pay back the cost of installation over a number of years.

Why is space-based solar power good? ›

Since clouds, atmosphere and nighttime are absent in space, satellite-based solar panels would be able to capture and transmit substantially more energy than terrestrial solar panels.

How long do solar panels last UK? ›

How long do Solar Panels last In the UK? Studies show that solar panels typically last between 25-30 years, at which manufacturers would call the optimal rate.

Is solar energy cheap to build? ›

When it comes to the cost of energy from new power plants, onshore wind and solar are now the cheapest sources—costing less than gas, geothermal, coal, or nuclear.

Do solar panels work at night? ›

The short answer is: no, solar energy systems only operate during the day.

Why is solar so expensive to install? ›

Producing it requires advanced manufacturing as well as expensive raw materials, such as high-grade silicon for solar panels and lithium for solar batteries.

Why solar system is expensive? ›

These panels have the highest efficiency rate due to the high purity of the silicon used. They are most expensive because of their quality of occupying less space, high power output and long durability.

Is solar system cheaper than electricity? ›

Yes, solar power today is cheaper than grid power for a lot of consumer categories across most states. Moreover, solar is a one time investment while grid tariff keeps increasing every year.

How much do astronauts get paid? ›

Astronauts who work for civilian agencies like NASA earn a base salary of $104,898 per year. However, their salaries can increase to $161,141 per year.

What would happen if the space station stopped? ›

If NASA were to completely abandon the space station and make no attempt whatsoever to maintain it, the engines would eventually run out of fuel or suffer some kind of mechanical failure. Its orbit would decay—that's a space-y way of saying the station would get closer and closer to Earth—until it came crashing down.

What will replace the space station? ›

To ensure that low-Earth orbit activities continue without the International Space Station, NASA has commissioned several companies to create commercial low-Earth orbit destinations. Three US companies have been named so far to replace the ISS: Blue Origin, Nanoracks LLC and Northrop Grumman Systems Corporation.

Is space-based solar power our future? ›

Future Outlook for SBSP

According to predictions, oil and natural gas could run out in 50 years and coal production in 115 years. With ongoing research and investments, there is a high possibility that space-based solar power is the viable future of solar power.

How cold is space? ›

Space is very, very cold. The baseline temperature of outer space is 2.7 kelvins (opens in new tab) — minus 454.81 degrees Fahrenheit, or minus 270.45 degrees Celsius — meaning it is barely above absolute zero, the point at which molecular motion stops.

What is the most advanced space station? ›

Space stations allow astronauts to conduct research and experiments in space over a long duration. The largest and most sophisticated of these is the International Space Station (ISS).

Which country tried to grow plants in space? ›

In 1982, the crew of the Soviet Salyut 7 space station conducted an experiment, prepared by Lithuanian scientists (Alfonsas Merkys and others), and grew some Arabidopsis using Fiton-3 experimental micro-greenhouse apparatus, thus becoming the first plants to flower and produce seeds in space.

Which country try to grow plants in space? ›

But the vast fields of crops in north-eastern China are no ordinary plants – they were created in outer space. They are a variety known as Luyuan 502 and are China's second most widely grown type of wheat. The plants were bred from seeds that were flown into orbit 200 miles (340km) above the Earth's surface.

Who created space based solar power? ›

The original concept of solar power from space was dreamt up in 1968 by Peter Glaser, a US engineer at the consultancy Arthur D Little. He envisaged placing a huge disc-shaped satellite in geostationary orbit some 36,000 km above the Earth (Science 162 857).

Which country has space power? ›

The Space Race, by Country
RankCountryCumulative Number of Objects Launched into Space
#1United States5,534
#2Russia3,611
#3China731
#4UK515
6 more rows
8 Jul 2022

How do you eat in space? ›

How to Eat in Space. Space food commonly comes in plastic packaging or cans. To prevent their food from floating away at meal time, packaging has Velcro patches so it can be attached to a tray or table. Tape, tethers, and magnets are also used to affix food items to surfaces.

Can you grow food in space? ›

The Vegetable Production System, known as Veggie, is a space garden residing on the space station. Veggie's purpose is to help NASA study plant growth in microgravity, while adding fresh food to the astronauts' diet and enhancing happiness and well-being on the orbiting laboratory.

Which country is the largest producer of space in the world? ›

1. United States of America (NASA/USSF) With a budget nearly twice that of the next-highest agency, the United States' National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is easily the most prolific and active space agency in the world.

How Long Can plants survive in space? ›

Primitive plants are the latest forms of Earth life to show they can survive in the harshness of space, and for many months.

What plant can live in space? ›

But astronauts have grown several varieties of lettuce, radishes, peas, zinnias, and sunflowers, and they do just fine. “Plants are very adaptive, and they have to be—they can't run away,” says Gioia Massa, a scientist at NASA's Kennedy Space Center who studies plants in microgravity.

What are the problems with growing plants in space? ›

Without gravity or ample light in space, plants don't have a good sense of where to grow. In low gravity, seeds can also float away if they are not tethered to their growth surface. Water distribution in space is also difficult to manage.

Who is the leader in solar technology? ›

Largest Solar Companies Research Summary

The largest solar company in the U.S. is NextEra Energy, with a revenue of $17.069 billion and an market share of 2.37%.

How long do space solar panels last? ›

Solar Panel Degradation and The Lifespan of Solar Panels

The first 25 to 30 years after your solar installation is considered the system's “useful life”, but panels can still produce electricity for decades longer. In fact, the world's first modern solar panel is still producing electricity at the ripe age of 60!

Does any country have space weapons? ›

Anti-satellite weapons, which are primarily surface-to-space and air-to-space missiles, have been developed by the United States, the USSR/Russia, India and the People's Republic of China.

Can any country go to space? ›

Only three nations (Soviet Union/Russia, U.S., China) have launched their own crewed spacecraft, with the Soviets/Russians and the American programs providing rides to other nations' astronauts. Twenty-seven "first flights" occurred on Soviet or Russian flights while the United States carried sixteen.

Do countries fight in space? ›

As of 2022, no actual warfare is known to have taken place in space, though a number of tests and demonstrations have been performed. International treaties are in place that attempt to regulate conflicts in space and limit the installation of space weapon systems, especially nuclear weapons.

Videos

1. Cheap and clean: How the UK can deliver more green, homegrown energy?
(PolicyExchangeUK)
2. BREAKING: China To Launch First Ever SPACE Solar Power Plant
(Race To Space)
3. Will the National Grid in the UK Cope with the Increase in EVs & Heat Pumps? (Ep.27) Paul Jewell
(Renewable Heating Hub)
4. China Starts Huge Project to Beam Power From Space
(TomoNews US)
5. China Building The WORLDS FIRST Space-Solar Power Plant #china #space #solar #solargenerators
(World Project)
6. Bridging the gap from fossil fuels to clean energy
(UK Government)
Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Jerrold Considine

Last Updated: 01/15/2023

Views: 6227

Rating: 4.8 / 5 (58 voted)

Reviews: 81% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Jerrold Considine

Birthday: 1993-11-03

Address: Suite 447 3463 Marybelle Circles, New Marlin, AL 20765

Phone: +5816749283868

Job: Sales Executive

Hobby: Air sports, Sand art, Electronics, LARPing, Baseball, Book restoration, Puzzles

Introduction: My name is Jerrold Considine, I am a combative, cheerful, encouraging, happy, enthusiastic, funny, kind person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.