Beaming 24/7 solar from space

A science-fiction author came up with the idea. But could it actually be closer to reality than we think?

On the Catalyst with Shayle Kann podcast this week:

It’s the highest-intensity solar power you can get. It’s available 24/7. And you can send it anywhere on Earth.

All you need to do is launch a 10-kilometer-by-10-kilometer array of solar panels into geosynchronous orbit, capture solar energy and beam it to Earth using a massive antenna array. Then set up a receiver a few kilometers in diameter on Earth to collect that power and send it to the grid. 

Sound like science fiction? You wouldn’t be far off (looking at you, Isaac Asimov). But the reality is that Caltech, the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory and a public-private consortium in Japan are all working on various iterations of the idea.

Recent developments in spacetech warrant some cautious optimism about space-based solar. SpaceX has pioneered reusable rockets that have dramatically reduced the cost of launches. And the mass production of satellites has brought down the cost of hardware, too.

So how would space-based solar actually work? And what would it take to commercialize it?

In this episode, Shayle talks to Sanjay Vijendran, lead for the Solaris initiative on space-based solar power at the European Space Agency. He argues that space-based solar is much closer to commercialization than is nuclear fusion, which garners a lot more attention and funding.

They cover topics including:

  • The four main components of such a project: the launch, the solar panels, the antenna and the receiver on Earth.

  • Where we need additional research, including beaming power at greater distance and scale, plus power beaming safety.

  • What it might feel like if you stood under the beam.

  • The target launch costs the industry would need to reach viability.

  • Pilot projects happening right now.

Recommended resources:

  • The Verge: Space-based solar power is having its moment in the sun

  • Science: Space-based solar power is getting serious — can it solve Earth’s energy woes?

  • Canary: Is space-based solar ready for liftoff?

Catalyst is a co-production of Post Script Media and Canary Media.

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Catalyst is supported by Antenna Group. For 25 years, Antenna has partnered with leading clean-economy innovators to build their brands and accelerate business growth. If you’re a startup, investor, enterprise or innovation ecosystem that’s creating positive change, Antenna is ready to power your impact. Visit antennagroup.com to learn more.

Catalyst is supported by RE+. RE+ is more than just the largest clean energy event — it’s a catalyst for industry innovation designed to supercharge business growth in the clean energy economy. Learn more: re-plus.com.