Solar power could be generated much more efficiently in space

Harvesting solar power in space one step closer

Japanese engineering giant Mitsubishi has successfully demonstrated long-distance wireless power transmission, paving the way for harvesting energy in outer space.

During the test at Mitsubishi Heavy Industries’ Kobe Shipyard & Machinery Works near Osaka, the engineers managed to beam 10kW of power through a microwave transmitter across a distance of 500m.

As the beam of microwaves hit the receiving unit, some of the energy was used to turn on LED lights, confirming the success of the trial.

Mitsubishi said the test ‘marks a new milestone’ in terms of both the distance and power load, and verifies the firm’s space solar power systems (SSPS) concept.

Mitsubishi envisions SSPS will take solar energy generation to an entirely new level. Solar panels would be placed on geostationary satellites, whose orbit keeps them in a fixed spot above the Earth’s surface at a distance of 36,000km, where unhindered by Earth’s atmosphere they would generate energy much more efficiently.

The wireless transmission system, freeing energy generation from the reliance on cables and wires, would beam the energy to Earth using microwave or laser technology, for conversion to electrical energy.

Mitsubishi believes space-based solar power will revolutionise renewable energy generation and can in future become the world’s number one source of clean renewable power.

However, earth-bound industry would also benefit from wireless power transmission. For example building offshore wind farms would no longer require laying cables at the bottom of the sea – an extremely complicated and costly task.

During the testing last week, the engineers also verified performance of the advanced control system technology used to regulate the direction of the microwave beam so that it does not veer from the targeted receiver unit.

Japan has set its sights on space solar power several years ago. In 2012, Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry tasked Japan Space Systems with overseeing the development.

Japan is the undisputed leader in the field. The Japan Aerospace Agency (JAXA) has published multiple studies about the concept in the past years and envisions first installations to become a reality within the next 25 years.

US space agency Nasa has explored the concept as part of its Space Solar Power Exploratory Research and Technology programme (SERT) launched in 1999.

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