A Solar Power Beam Brings Renewable Energy into Focus


Renewable energy refers to energy derived from natural sources that are replenishable and virtually inexhaustible. Its sources include the sun, water, wind, and geothermal heat. As it is in abundance and is naturally occurring, they are clean, easily accessible, and reliable.

While floating solar panels and wind energy projects have witnessed increased adoption, European aerospace giant Airbus has come up with a new way to harness solar energy – Solar power can be beamed from space to power up systems on Earth. Airbus demonstrated that the technique could work in its X-Works Innovation Factory.

solar energy
Airbus demonstrated that beaming solar power can be used to power homes and factories. (An image of a solar beam in use; Image Credit – Airbus)

Why do we need renewable energy?

Fossil fuels still account for almost 80% of energy production around the world. While clean energy is gaining ground, the transition is still a long way away.   

Renewable energy is being promoted by governments across the world as it is effective in reducing greenhouse gasses and reducing fossil fuel usage. To mitigate the impact of climate change, emissions must be reduced by half by 2030, and reach net zero by 2050. Brookfield even set up a Brookfield Global Transition Fund to advance net zero targets. 

The cost of electricity from solar power fell by 85% between 2010 and 2020. Governments are offering subsidies and tax benefits to encourage innovation in renewable energy as it will help decarbonize the planet, starting with the power sector.

The Solar Power Beam

Previously, studies have outlined how space-based solar power can be converted to microwaves that can be beamed on to Earth. Solar power beaming had until now only been a concept promoted by radar techs, who believed that solar power gathered in the arrays can be utilized for this technique.

During the demonstration, researchers transmitted the solar power beam from a distance of 36 m and used the reconverted energy to produce green hydrogen that was used to light up a model city. This solar power can be used to run factories, power homes, and eventually adapted for use in aircrafts.

The experiment was conducted on September 27 at Airbus’ X-Works Innovation Factory by Jean-Dominique Coste, Yoann Thueux, and their colleagues. They used microwave beaming and transmitted green energy between two points representing Space and Earth.

Although Airbus has not released the finer details of the experiment, Jean-Dominique Coste, Senior Manager at Airbus Blue Sky, who led the development, said “the underlying principle is quite simple. The potential for the technology is to capture sunlight and then beam it wirelessly.”

The advantages of collecting solar power in space are obvious, says Thueux: “Outside the Earth’s atmosphere, the sun’s light is available indefinitely, not just during the day and in good weather like on Earth, plus it’s about 50% more intense.”

Coste believes that wide-scale deployment of this technology will help Europe and other nations accelerate their move towards renewable energy. Currently, the team is reviewing a number of designs to see how it can be rolled out on a bigger scale. Thueux notes that if satellites started collecting solar power they would need to be two kilometers across to be able to achieve the same power level as a nuclear plant.

The technology can be modified to ensure that it does not hurt objects in the sky, including planes and birds. Coste also assures us that the solar power beams easily pass through clouds, which means power loss during transmission is minimal.  He estimates the costs for building this tech to be the same as large power plants, but would decrease if more plants are built. Another major advantage is that the solar power beam does not require any costly infrastructure on Earth like power plants, pipelines, or relay towers. Everything can be done by power beaming.

Airbus is looking to scale the system slowly — from the ground to aerial systems to space.

Adopting the solar power beam will significantly reduce dependency on fossil fuel-based sources and help nations become completely carbon neutral by 2050.

The post A Solar Power Beam Brings Renewable Energy into Focus appeared first on Industry Leaders Magazine.

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