13th July 2024

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The thought of beaming solar energy right down to Earth from orbiting photo voltaic farms is an alluring one. House photo voltaic initiatives might ship clear kilowatts 24/7, anyplace on Earth, any time, whatever the climate — in the event that they occur. Nonetheless, the know-how items are starting to fall into place, and the financial case is starting to materialize, too.

Decreasing The Price Of House Photo voltaic Panels

Photo voltaic cells are nothing new to the house subject, in fact. NASA launched the primary solar-powered satellite tv for pc again in 1958, and solar energy has been a fixture in house exploration ever since.

The important thing situation for orbiting photovoltaic methods is the price of the photo voltaic panels. The excessive tech photo voltaic panels utilized in house purposes are expensive, and launching them up into house can be expensive. These prices have to return down earlier than orbiting photovoltaic arrays can compete with their Earth-bound counterparts.

The associated fee barrier is starting to fall as researchers develop new photo voltaic cells for house purposes. One new growth got here throughout the CleanTechnica radar on October 24, when the Universities of Surrey and Swansea reported on a first-of-its-kind, long run research of a photo voltaic array on a satellite tv for pc.

“The findings might pave the way in which for commercially viable photo voltaic farms in house,” the College of Surrey famous.

The array was constructed by a staff based mostly at Swansea’s Centre for Photo voltaic Vitality Analysis, assisted by engineers-in-training from the Algerian House Company. It was designed particularly for the aim of assessing the financial case for orbiting PV arrays.

The work included growing a brand new thin-film cadmium telluride (CdTe) photo voltaic cell deposited on a skinny layer of glass. Skinny-film photo voltaic cells are lighter, extra versatile, and cheaper to fabricate than typical silicon photo voltaic cells.

As well as, the ultra-thin glass panels may be deployed with a comparatively uncomplicated “roll-out” maneuver.

The research gathered 5 years of flight knowledge for 4 prototype cells. The thinly layered cells confirmed no indicators of peeling or delaminating all through the 30,000-orbit flight, which was a key take a look at. Electrical methods additionally held up effectively.

“The outcomes assist to strengthen the argument for additional growth of this know-how for house software,” the staff concluded.

Subsequent steps embody creating new again contact supplies to assist guarantee in opposition to lack of photo voltaic conversion effectivity over time, which was apparently the one main problem to crop up through the flight.

Decreasing The Price Of Rocket Launches

In the meantime, the European House Company has been conducting cost-benefit analyses by way of its SOLARIS house photo voltaic program.

The payoff may very well be enormous. “Daylight is on common greater than ten occasions as intense on the high of the ambiance as it’s down on the floor of the Earth,” ESA explains, “And up at a sufficiently excessive orbit daylight could be accessible on a steady foundation, to seize all the daylight accessible, in a position to be beamed to receiving stations throughout the planet, wherever it’s wanted.”

Getting all that tools up into house is a problem, although. ESA estimates that a cheap photo voltaic farm in house must attain a measurement of at the very least one kilometer throughout. That might contain a whole lot of rocket launches.

ESA notes that the Worldwide House Station required dozens of launches to assemble, and an area photo voltaic station would require “an order of magnitude extra.”

That’s the dangerous information. The excellent news is that launch prices have come down since development on the Worldwide House Station started in earnest, again in 1998. Final summer time NASA additionally teased the thought of producing photo voltaic cells on the Moon, which might additionally someway come into play. When you have any ideas about that, drop us a observe on the remark thread.

Dangerous Information For Nukes

One other side of the financial case for space-based photo voltaic is the attraction of avoiding the price of main new electrical energy transmission initiatives on Earth. As demonstrated by latest expertise within the US, new interstate transmission initiatives can take years to get off the bottom, if ever.

ESA additionally bolsters the financial case by positioning space-based photo voltaic farms as a substitute for one other 24/7 zero-emission useful resource, nuclear power.

“A single solar energy satellite tv for pc of the deliberate scale would generate round 2 gigawatts of energy, equal to a traditional nuclear energy station, in a position to energy a couple of million properties,” ESA notes.

That’s not such nice information for nuclear power followers right here within the US, the place nuclear know-how nonetheless will get the side-eye on account of the 1979 Three Mile Island nuclear energy plant catastrophe in Pennsylvania. A brand new 2-gigawatt facility would have a tricky time discovering a house anyplace within the US with no lengthy, expensive slog by way of allowing obstacles and court docket challenges.

Regardless of its recognition in different elements of the world, nuclear power has struggled to compete in opposition to the copious renewable power assets of the US (see extra CleanTechnica nuclear power protection right here). Now right here comes house photo voltaic with one other twist of the knife.

Solely three new nuclear reactors are at or close to completion within the US for the reason that flip of the century. One among them started development again in 1972. The opposite two began in 2009 and lurched over the end line dragging billions in price overruns. All three are add-ons to current nuclear energy vegetation.

House Photo voltaic: How To Get It From There To Right here

As for how one can get electrical energy from an area photo voltaic array right down to Earth, that’s straightforward. As described by ESA, the essential know-how for wi-fi transmission is already in place.

The satan is within the particulars, although. CleanTechnica has been protecting tabs on house photo voltaic analysis within the US since 2013, once we took observe of a pitch organized by the Nationwide House Society. The thought sounded far-fetched again then, however in 2014 we famous that the US Navy was eyeballing house photo voltaic in its efforts to chop down on fossil fuels.

By 2015, Northrop Grumman additionally had an curiosity in growing know-how for space-based photo voltaic farms. They engaged in a partnership with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory by way of CalTech, which runs the power. The Air Power has additionally recognized house photo voltaic as a key power know-how for the warfighter of the longer term, so it’s no shock to seek out Northrup Grumman partnering with the US Air Power Analysis Laboratory to speed up the house photo voltaic business.

One other piece of the puzzle got here from the US Naval Analysis Laboratory in 2020, with an replace on an answer to trim down the dimensions and weight of photo voltaic cells for space-based photo voltaic farms. The brand new cells could be built-in with a photo voltaic conversion system and an antennae, enabling them to switch photo voltaic power to a radio sign and beam it right down to earth.

The newest information from CalTech entails a profitable take a look at of wi-fi transmission from a space-based photo voltaic array to Earth earlier this yr. Final week, experiences additionally surfaced that CalTech scientists are engaged on a self-assembling system for photo voltaic farms in house, so keep tuned for extra on that.

Comply with me @tinamcasey on Bluesky, Threads, Publish, and LinkedIn.

Picture: Europe’s SOLARIS house photo voltaic analysis program is constructing an financial case for sending photo voltaic farms in orbit across the Earth (picture courtesy of ESA).


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