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Harvesting Sun’s Energy in Space

It sounds like the stuff of science fiction - but Europe might one day be powered by giant floating solar panels orbiting the planet.

Solar power harvested in Space
Credit: ESA - Solaris

The European Space Agency (ESA) has unveiled a plan to harvest the sun’s energy in space and beam it back down to Earth. The technology is still in the preliminary testing phase - but the end goal is the construction of a 2km long solar space farm, generating as much energy as a nuclear power plant.

The proposed farm would orbit 36,000km above the Earth and “would ensure that Europe becomes a key player - and potentially leader - in the international race towards scalable clean energy solutions for mitigating climate change,” said the ESA.

Solar power is one of the best sources of clean energy, but it’s currently held back by a few limitations. Panels can only harness power in the daytime, and even then, much of the sunlight is absorbed by the atmosphere on its journey to the ground.

In Space, the sun’s beams are around ten times as intense as they are on Earth. The ESA have partnered with Airbus - a European multinational aerospace corporation - to develop ‘wireless power transmission’ to capture this 24-hour source of electricity and beam it down to us.

The technology is based on the transmission used by TV and communication satellites every day, Airbus engineer Nicolas Schneider says. "We are not very far from a 4G antenna, except that what we want is not to radiate in all directions, we want to be very precise like a laser, in fact,” he says.

The problem, as always, is scale. But with technology evolving rapidly, the project could be a reality in coming decades.



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