With a growing global population, increasing energy consumption and global warming, there has never been such an urgent need to reverse the environmental impacts of human activities. Space-based Solar Power could be the solution.
While fossil fuels remain our primary energy source, renewable energy sources – such as wind, solar and water – have proven over and over to be a much more sustainable source of energy for the longevity of our planet. The main issues with converting completely to renewable energy are the higher costs and lower efficiency. As technological advancements are easing the former, uncontrollable natural phenomena, like weather conditions and seasonality, prevent the improvement of the latter. Solar satellites in space could solve both of these issues, however.
The environmental benefits to space-based solar power are numerous: from increasing energy efficiency to minimizing land use, these benefits go beyond remedying the downsides of terrestrial-based solar power.
1. SBSP increases energy availability.
Space-based solar power systems convert sunlight into energy, such as microwaves, which is then transmitted to receptors on Earth. Depending on the orbit, satellites in space can receive up to 24 hours of sunlight, erasing the issues of weather and nighttime that inhibit solar panels on Earth from generating energy. Sunlight (or solar radiation) is also much more intense in space, without the atmosphere absorbing a fraction prior to reception. The intensity in orbit is 136% of the maximum attainable intensity on Earth's surface. This means there is 5 to 20 times more energy available.
2. SBSP reduces energy for transportation and storage.
Power could be relatively quickly redirected directly to areas that need it most - this is called dispatchability. A solar power satellite can direct power on-demand to different
locations based on power demand.
3. SBSP minimizes land use.
By establishing solar panels in space rather than on Earth, interference with plant and wildlife habitats is reduced. Solar panel fields are quite vast and often affect the ability for ecosystems to exist around them as they did before. However, minimizing land use solves this issue and allows for more space for plants and life to flourish. Space based solar power ground stations need 4-1/2 times less land area as compared to ground-based solar farms.
All three of these environmental benefits discussed help in reducing overall costs of solar power. That being said, there are still huge challenges with SBSP.