Harvesting Solar Energy from Space

Solar energy from space

The Earth has entered the ‘code red’, claim the scientists in a recent report on climate change. The report states that 16 out of 35 vitals used to measure Earth’s climate change are at alarming levels. There is an ongoing battle to save the planet by undoing all that was done during the last few decades and taking action to save the planet. Finding a renewable and clean source of energy is at the top of the list. The most critical aspect is to find such a form of renewable energy that will be carbon neutral and most importantly affordable to all.

Renewable and clean energy

Renewable energy sources are the ones that can be replenished and do not get exhausted, unlike fossil fuel-based energy sources that are limited and have loads of carbon footprints.  All in all, we need a sustainable source of energy. The renewable forms of energy that we are currently exploring and using are biomass, solar, tidal, wind, hydro, and geothermal energy. 

Solar energy, the future energy

Solar energy is the energy generated from the radiation of the sun using photovoltaic cells. Solar energy has domestic as well as industrial applications and by far it is the most popular form of renewable energy being used across the globe. Although widely used, solar energy does face some issues when it comes to the infrastructure built and cost. Moreover, solar energy is weather dependent, and cannot be used in places where the sunshine is not ample. Thus, scientists are working on an innovative technology that will help us collect solar energy from space and bring it to the Earth. 

Solar energy from space

Solar energy from space! Seems like the plot of some sci-fi action novel, right? But it is not. The team of scientists at Caltech University is working on a Space-based Solar Power Project (SSPP). The project involves the deployment of modular spacecraft equipped to collect solar energy from space, convert it to electricity and transfer it to the Earth’s surface wirelessly. The team consists of three specialised groups led by Prof Harry Atwater, Prof Ali Hajimiri, and Prof Sergio Pellegrino respectively. 

The team led by Prof Atwater is working on developing ultralight specialised photovoltaic cells that can work under space conditions. These are coupled with a modular system that can convert and transmit energy. 

Prof Hajimiri’s team’s work involves designing a low-cost and lightweight technology that can convert direct current power to radio frequency and send it to Earth. The process is quite safe as it involves the use of non-ionising radiation. 

Prof Pellegrino’s work is to design lightweight, ultra-thin space structures that will support photovoltaic cells and the component used to convert and transmit energy. The idea is to make the assembly compact and lightweight so that it can easily fit into a small launching vehicle. 

As explained by the team, the basic unit responsible for capturing and converting the solar energy would be a small tile and many such tiles together will form the complete assembly. The team is quite positive about the project and is hoping to launch the prototype by December 2022. 

The new ray of hope

The technology of harvesting solar energy from space is quite innovative which many of us could not have thought of even in our wildest dreams. If and when successfully implemented, the technology will help us take electricity to even the most remote place on Earth irrespective of the weather and the infrastructural setup. And the cherry on top is that it is affordable, clean, and completely carbon-neutral!

By Amruta Joshi

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