Beam it down! Solar farms in space!

London, United Kingdom by NASA via Flickr CC

Euronews is reporting that giant solar farms orbiting the planet may someday power Europe. The European Space Agency (ESA) unveiled a plan to harvest the sun’s energy in space and beam it back down to Earth.

It’s an idea that has been around for a while, and the subject of science fiction stories, but now it is closer to science fact. The technology is still in the preliminary testing phase, but the goal is the construction of a 2-kilometer (1.2 mile) long solar space farm, generating as much energy as a nuclear power plant, according to Hannah Brown with the European Broadcasting Union (EBU). The farm would orbit about 36,000 kilometers above the Earth.

“[Such a project] would ensure that Europe becomes a key player– and potentially leader – in the international race towards scalable clean energy solutions for mitigating climate change,” the ESA said in a statement.

Solar power is a great source of clean energy, but it’s held back by some limitations. For example, solar panels can only harness power in the daytime, and even then, much of the sunlight is absorbed by the atmosphere on its journey to the ground. But in space, the sun’s beams are around ten times as intense as they are on Earth.

The ESA has partnered with Airbus to develop ‘wireless power transmission’ to capture this 24-hour source of electricity and beam it down to us. The technology is based on the transmission used by TV and communication satellites every day, Airbus engineer Nicolas Schneider explained: “We are not very far from a 4G antenna, except that what we want is not to radiate in all directions, we want to be very precise like a laser, in fact. It’s a wave that can be directed to this receiving antenna which will then transform this wave into electricity.”

The problem is one of scale. The satellite would be massive, and so difficult to launch and build. But doable.

With mega-billionaires so interested in playing around in space, maybe they should spend a few billion for this and become energy czars.

Let’s do this!