Space solar power, also called SSP, is a means of creating power by using solar panels placed beyond atmospheric layers. While still in infancy for mass usage, space solar power technology has been used to power spacecraft for decades. Some believe that space solar power is the answer to most of the world’s energy problems; it is a clean, renewable source of energy with a tremendous amount of potential power.
Solar power today usually consists of ground-based solar panels that absorb light from the sun, convert it into an electrical current, and either use it directly or store it in batteries for later use. Space solar power works in much the same way, but with two major distinctions: without the atmospheric layer, the level of power absorbed is tremendously high, and the energy must be sent to earth through radio waves or microwaves.
There is no weather in space, no clouds or atmospheric layers, and no day and night cycles. The lack of these elements means that space solar power stations are exposed to undiminished levels of sunlight. Once far enough away from the earth, satellites and spacecraft essentially have 24 hour access to sunlight. Unlike on Earth, where solar power collection is limited to sunny weather and day time, SSP stations could collect enormous amounts of solar power without ceasing.
Space solar power has existed as a scientific concept since the 1960s, when the idea was first described by Dr. Peter Glaser of the Czech Republic. Since that time, the technology has slowly evolved to meet the potential of the idea, thanks to experimentation by the US and Japanese governments, as well as private research organizations. In 2009, Northern California energy company PG&E stepped forward to contract with SSP firm Solaren, Inc. in a deal to provide parts of California with space solar power by 2016.
Even proponents of SSP are quick to point out that there are potential risks and pitfalls associated with implementing the technology. First, while the transmission of SSP has been theorized and patented, it has never been practically used. Second, some voice concern about the high concentration of microwaves needed to transmit the energy down to the Earth’s surface. Some suggest that power-receiving stations will need to be in unpopulated areas such as deserts and mountains, in order to reduce potential exposure to harmful microwaves.
The advantages of SSP certainly appear to make it a technology worth understanding. Unlike many other sources of renewable power, SSP produces no greenhouse gases or toxic waste, does not require mining or crop burning to refine the product, and is not dependent on natural forces such as weather in order to work. To many scientists and business investors, space solar power may offer humans a brightly powered future.