A solar power beam highlights renewable energy

Renewable energy refers to energy derived from natural sources that are renewable and virtually inexhaustible. Its sources include the sun, water, wind, and geothermal heat. Because it is plentiful and natural, it is clean, easily accessible, and reliable.

While floating solar panels and wind power projects have seen increased adoption, European aerospace giant Airbus has devised a new way to harness solar energy: Solar power can be transmitted from space to power systems on Earth. Airbus demonstrated that the technique could work at its X-Works Innovation Factory.

solar energy
Airbus demonstrated that radiant solar energy can be used to power homes and factories. (An image of a sunbeam in use; Image Credit – Airbus)

Why do we need renewable energy?

Fossil fuels still account for almost 80% of energy production worldwide. While clean energy is gaining ground, the transition is still a long way off.

Governments around the world are promoting renewable energy as it is effective in reducing greenhouse gases and reducing the use of fossil fuels. To mitigate the impact of climate change, emissions must be cut in half by 2030 and reach net zero by 2050. Brookfield even established a Brookfield Global Transition Fund to advance net zero goals.

The cost of electricity from solar energy fell by 85% between 2010 and 2020. Governments are offering subsidies and tax breaks to encourage innovation in renewable energy, as it will help decarbonize the planet, starting with the sector electric.

solar energy beam

Previously, studies have described how space-based solar energy can be converted into microwaves that can be transmitted to Earth. Until now, solar energy transmission had only been a concept promoted by radar technicians, who believed that the solar energy gathered in arrays could be used for this technique.

During the demonstration, the researchers transmitted the solar energy beam from a distance of 36m and used the converted energy to produce green hydrogen that was used to light a model city. This solar energy can be used to run factories, power homes, and eventually be adapted for use in airplanes.

The experiment was carried out on September 27 at the Airbus X-Works Innovation Factory by Jean-Dominique Coste, Yoann Thueux and their colleagues. They used microwave beams and transmitted green energy between two points representing Space and Earth.

Although Airbus has not released the finer details of the experiment, Jean-Dominique Coste, Senior Manager at Airbus Blue Sky, who led the development, said that “the underlying principle is quite simple. The potential of the technology is to capture sunlight and then transmit it wirelessly.”

The advantages of harvesting solar energy in space are obvious, says Thueux: “Outside of Earth’s atmosphere, sunlight is available indefinitely, not just during the day and in good weather like on Earth, it’s also a 50% more intense.”

Coste believes that large-scale deployment of this technology will help Europe and other nations accelerate their move toward renewable energy. The team is currently reviewing a number of designs to see how it can be implemented on a larger scale. Thueux points out that if satellites were to start collecting solar energy, they would need to be two kilometers wide to be able to achieve the same power level as a nuclear plant.

The technology can be modified to ensure that it does not damage objects in the sky, including planes and birds. Cost also ensures that the sun’s energy rays easily pass through the clouds, which means that energy loss during transmission is minimal. He estimates that the costs of building this technology are the same as those of large power plants, but would decrease if more plants are built. Another big advantage is that the solar power beam does not require any expensive infrastructure on Earth, such as power plants, pipelines or transmission towers. Everything can be done by power transmission.

Airbus is looking to scale the system slowly, from the ground to airborne systems and into space.

The adoption of the solar energy beam will significantly reduce the reliance on fossil fuel based sources and help nations to be completely carbon neutral by 2050.

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