The idea of harvesting solar power from space via orbiting solar farms has been around for a while, but may be closer to reality than many of us realised.
The solar energy available in space is up to ten times greater than on Earth as there’s no atmospheric or cloud interference to contend with, no real night and no seasons. This means that if solar power could somehow be harvested from space, it could be a baseload resource instead of an intermittent source of power.
Baseload issues are one the last frontiers in terms of many forms of renewable energy and one of the few remaining arguments supporting the need for fossil fuel or nuclear based power.
But how do you get the power from the solar panels affixed to orbiting platforms back to Earth? The general concept has been to convert it to radio frequency energy for transmission to a receiving station, which then converts it back into electricity.
While this technology may seem decades away, perhaps only possible next century; US company Portland Gas & Electric is seeking approval from regulators for a power purchase agreement with Solaren Corp., a Southern California company that has contracted to deliver 200 megawatts of clean, renewable power from space over a 15 year period, commencing in 2016.
Solaren will place solar panels in earth orbit, transmit the energy to a receiving station in Fresno County, which will then be converted to electricity and fed into PG&E’s power grid.
If successful, the pilot project could address issues such as the use of environmentally sensitive areas for sprawling solar farms. However, one issue that hasn’t been addressed is the energy required to produce and put these solar panels into space versus the amount of energy they may generate – and that’s where space elevators may come into play.