JAXA — Japan’s space administration had a breakthrough in 2015 that enabled them to beam 1,800 Watts of power 50 meters to a wireless receiver. To put that in perspective, 1,800 Watts can power a toaster, toaster oven, electric kettle, hair dryer, or a single-burner stove top (not combined). Now they’re moving towards their next big step and the end goal: beaming solar power from space down to Earth.
The project is a joint effort between Shinohara and the Japanese government, and will convert the solar power into microwaves to facilitate transmission over long distances (hundreds of miles in this case) to receiving stations on the ground. The project is expected to be costly ($7 billion if it is a 1 GW system). However, it would be a starting point for developing the technology so that future solar deployments are more economical.
Why Beam Solar Power From Space?
Putting anything in space is an expensive and complicated proposition. However, it is always done for a reason. Solar panels on Earth don’t generate as much electricity while clouds are passing over them. They also don’t generate electricity at night due to the Earth’s rotation (each region of the Earth turns away from the sun during evening hours, making them dark). Deploying solar panels in space solves all those problems by getting the panels off Earth in the first place: No more cloud cover, and no more night time.
This could turn solar panels into a base load electricity source that generate the same amount of electricity 24/7, 365 — even without energy storage. This means that solar developers could offset at least some of the high cost of deploying the solar panels to space by not having to purchase energy storage. The high cost of energy storage is the largest issue facing solar energy today.