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China plans to tap the Sun’s boundless energy with an orbiting solar farm

Published Feb 18th, 2019 2:46PM EST
space solar farm
Image: Justus de Cuveland / imageBROKER/Shutterstock

Our Sun is the most readily available source of energy we have available to us, but harnessing its incredible power is something humanity is still a challenge. Solar farms placed in sunny areas of the Earth do a good job of converting sunlight into usable energy, but major drawbacks remain.

For one, solar panels placed on the planet can only collect sunlight for a portion of the day, and weather can dramatically hinder their ability to create electricity. Now, China thinks it has a solution to both of those problems, and it’s going to test its idea within the next few years.

In a new report from China’s Science and Technology Daily, as spotted by the Sydney Morning Herald, the country’s plans for a space-based solar farm are revealed. Rather than a power-gathering installation on Earth, China plans to launch an energy-gathering solar station into Earth orbit.

Using a space solar station instead of one on the ground not only eliminates weather as a factor but also allows the station to remain in full sunlight 24 hours a day. According to the report, China envisions a system by which the spacecraft collect solar power and then send it down to receiving stations on the Earth as a laser or microwave beam. The power would then be fed into the power grid as electricity.

According to the report, the country plans to test out the concept between 2021 and 2025 with small-scale orbital power stations and then take the next step to a megawatt-level solar station around 2030. Eventually, a gigawatt-capable spacecraft is planned, but that’s a few decades down the road.

It’s a very interesting idea and, if China can get it working reliably it might be a viable and relatively green energy solution, but there’s still lots of work to be done before such a judgement can be made.