The UK Is Serious About Winning the Race To Harness Solar Energy Directly from Space

13th Jun 2023
The UK Is Serious About Winning the Race To Harness Solar Energy Directly from Space

The United Kingdom is propelling its space-based solar power industry to new heights through a significant government investment aimed at advancing cutting-edge technology. In a recent announcement at London Tech Week, Energy Security Secretary, Grant Shapps, revealed that leading UK universities and technology companies will receive a share of £4.3 million in government funding to drive innovation in this sector. This step showcases the UK’s commitment to harnessing the potential of space-based solar power and transforming the nation’s energy landscape.

Beaming Sun Energy to Earth

Space-based solar power involves the collection of energy from the Sun using panels on satellites, which is then transmitted safely back to Earth through wireless technology. This innovative approach holds enormous promise, not only for enhancing the UK’s energy security but also for reducing dependence on fossil fuels and lowering household energy costs. With the Sun visible over 99% of the time, space-based solar power has the potential to provide consistent solar energy throughout the year. By investing in this technology, the UK government is aligning with the Prime Minister’s vision of fostering economic growth while transitioning to a cleaner and more sustainable energy future.

Artist’s impression of a solar power satellite. Source: European SPS Tower concept

Leading the Global Effort

The UK joins the ranks of other countries, including Japan and the United States, committed to advancing space-based solar power. Recent milestones include the California Institute of Technology’s claim of successfully transmitting solar power to Earth from space. With bold determination, Secretary of State for Energy Security and Net Zero Grant Shapps envisions the UK as a frontrunner in this rapidly emerging industry. By supporting the development of this groundbreaking technology, the UK aims to revolutionize its energy landscape and ensure cheaper, cleaner, and more secure energy for future generations.

The government’s Space Based Solar Power Innovation Competition, part of the flagship £1 billion Net Zero Innovation Portfolio, has awarded funding to eight pioneering projects. These include Cambridge University’s endeavour to develop ultra-lightweight solar panels capable of withstanding high-radiation conditions in space. Additionally, Queen Mary University in London is working on a wireless power transmission system to facilitate the transfer of solar power collected in space back to Earth. Other projects focus on the development of lightweight, flexible solar panels, simulation of solar space wireless power transfer capability, testing of space satellite antenna technology, and assessing the benefits and impacts of space solar.

Building on Renewable Leadership

The UK already stands as a global leader in renewable technologies, boasting the world’s four largest wind farms. Additionally, over 99% of the country’s solar power capacity has been installed since 2010, providing electricity to more than four million homes. Capitalizing on this momentum, the government’s investment in space solar aims to establish a new clean energy industry for the UK. With £4.3 million in funding, including contributions from the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero and the UK Space Agency, the nation is nurturing the early-stage development of space-based solar power.

The convergence of space technology and clean energy sources presents an unprecedented opportunity for collaboration. The UK’s space and energy industries, along with leading researchers and entrepreneurs in these sectors, are joining forces to unlock the transformative potential of space-based solar power. Dr. Mamatha Maheshwarappa, Payload Systems Lead at the UK Space Agency, emphasizes the historical ties between space technology and solar energy, highlighting the agency’s £1 million contribution to these innovative projects.

With pioneering projects receiving government funding, the UK is fostering breakthrough technologies, driving job creation, and positioning itself at the forefront of the global space-based solar power race. What groundbreaking advancements can we expect as the UK continues to lead the charge in space-based solar power? Stay tuned for more.

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