Chinese scientists announced plans to build the first-ever solar power station in space. Chinese media reported that a solar power station orbiting our planet at 36,000 kilometres would be able to tap into the energy from the sun's rays without any interference from the atmosphere or any of loss of sunlight. Moreover, the inland city of Chongqing they have begun to build an early experimental space power plant, as per China's Science and Technology Daily from China.
Pang Zhihao, a researcher at the China Academy of Space Technology Corporation, explained that space solar power could potentially offer an inexhaustible source of clean energy for the people of Earth. Zhihao said it could help charge electric cars at any time and place and could even supply the Earth with energy 99% of the time, at six-times the intensity of solar farms on our planet.
The first part of the plan is for Chinese scientists to construct and deploy small to medium-sized solar power stations that will be launched into the stratosphere to produce electricity. This is slated to take place between 2021 and 2025. Then in 2030, they will begin construction on a Megawatt-level space solar power station.
Li Ming, the Vice-President of the China Academy of Space Technology, said that China is expected to be the first country to construct a space solar power station that has practical value.
However, technical hurdles will need to be overcome. For example, Pang said the weight of a power station is expected to be 1000 tonnes, which is much higher than the 400 tonne International Space Station. Thus, researchers are looking into whether a space factory using robots and 3D printing technology could build the power station in space, which would circumvent the need to deploy a massive structure from our planet.
If the solar power station works then solar energy would be converted to electricity, and they would use a microwave or laser beam to send the energy back to earth. However, they need to study the long-term safety effects of microwave radiation from a space power station on the atmosphere and earth's ecology.
Nevertheless, a solar power station could overcome the issues of polluting fossil fuels on earth, as well as help China's in-depth space exploration program by offering an energy supply, according to the report.
China is not the only country looking into this concept. Scientists from Japan, India and Europe are also looking into ideas for solar-based power in space and in 2018, scientists from the California Institute of Technology claimed to have created a prototype that can harness and transmit solar energy from space via lightweight tiles.