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Every time the energy requirements are higher and we need to produce a greater amount of energy to satisfy the industry and our needs. This forces us to use energy sources pollutantswhich emit gases into the atmosphere. Europe is aware of this and is therefore interested in a project called SOLARIS to invest in space solar power and thus enhance their energy independence and reduce the issue of greenhouse gases.
We understand as space solar energy, that which we acquire in space and that we can convert into another type of energy. The main use that we would see is to make the conversion a electricity and thus consider it a renewable energy source. Although it may seem that the energy achieved by this method is much lower than others such as the use of fossil fuels, something must be taken into account. And it is that, on earththe use of solar panels it is less effective because the solar radiation received is much less.
The SOLARIS project to capture space solar energy will be very expensive
The director of the space agency, Joseph Ashbach, declared that he has been working to get support in Europe and carry out a project to avoid relying so much on non-renewable energy sources. So he presents his SOLARIS program to the council of THIS (European Space Agency), in order to make it come true. In fact, if its financing is signed and fulfilled, its development would begin in 2025. SOLARIS thus intends to capture space solar energy, through satellites that orbit above the Earth’s atmosphere. This will be obtained through photovoltaic cells and will be converted into electricity for residential or industrial use.
Its main advantage is that in space there is no night or clouds that reduce the solar energy achieved, in addition to the fact that its intensity is much greater. Currently, Europe consume 3,000 TWh of electricity per year and it is expected that the program SOLARIS can cover between one fourth and one third of this amount. However, the cost to launch this system will be extremely expensive, as it will cost hundreds of billions of euros. This is because a constellation of dozens of huge satellites that capture sunlight 36,000km from the earth.
And furthermore, each of these satellites would have a dough 10 times higher to that of the International Space Station, which already has a mass of 450 metric tons. We thus speak of the need to launch thousands of heavy rocket launches into space to carry all these satellites.
It would need 200 times more space transport capacity today
According to a report by the British company Frazer Nash, this SOLARIS program to achieve space solar energy is far from being completed within the proposed time frame. In fact, he estimates that the launching of a single satellite would take between 4 and 6 years. So, to get all the satellites they want they should increase 200 times the carrying capacity space. Additionally, Elon MuskCEO of SpaceX, states that it is stupid and that it will not work. To do this, he uses the argument that despite getting twice as much solar energy, you have to do a double conversion.
Thus, going from electron to photon and vice versa, ensuring that efficiency is lost and it’s hard to get to fifty%, therefore, it is better to have terrestrial solar panels. To add insult to injury, a physicist named Casey Handmer he was also against the SOLARIS project, adding that the costs and losses were too high. Thus, he ensures that there are transmission losses, thermal losses and added logistics costs. With all this he estimates that the space solar power be three times more expensive than terrestrial energy sources. His critique holds even in an ideal situation where a 100% efficiency and orbital launch costs of $10/kg.
Even so, he acknowledges that getting solar power from space could not compete with getting it on Earth. We will see in the future if ESA and Europe finally agree to start the SOLARIS program. Although seeing how expensive and ambitious it is, it is difficult for it to be carried out and, if it is done, it seems that it will go a long way.