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Space-based solar power prepares for lift-off

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The UK’s space-based solar power industry is preparing for lift off thanks to a multi-million government investment to develop the cutting-edge technology.

Spaced-based solar power collects energy from the Sun using panels on satellites and beams it safely back to earth with wireless technology.

In a speech at London Tech Week this week, the Minister of Energy Security and Net Zero Grant Shapps announced that a £4.3 million government fund will be provided to certain UK universities and technology companies to help drive forward innovation in the sector and make space-based solar power a reality.

Addressing delegates Mr Shapps said:

“Space-based solar energy farms could deliver clean energy day and night far more efficiently and, of course, in all weathers.”

“It is an area the UK simply cannot afford to ignore. We need clean energy to move up to six times faster in terms of development from where it is today and although the sun is a vast nuclear power station right on our doorstep, solar power still only accounts for 3.6% of global electricity production.”

The eight organisations receiving funding via the Government’s Space Based Solar Power Innovation Competition, are:

  • The University of Cambridge – set to receive £770,000 to develop ultra-lightweight solar panels that can survive long periods in high-radiation environments like the conditions in space. The aim is to increase the satellites’ lifetime, improve energy yields and lower the cost per unit of energy.
  • Queen Mary University in London – receiving £960,000 to develop a wireless power transmission system with high efficiency over a long range, to support the technology to beam solar power from the satellites back to Earth.
  • MicroLink Devices UK Ltd in Port Talbot, South Wales – being awarded £449,000 to develop the next generation of lightweight, flexible solar panels, for use in solar satellites.
  • The University of Bristol – set to receive £353,000 to produce a simulation of solar space wireless power transfer capability to explore the possibilities of this technology, and provide further evidence on the performance, safety, and reliability of space based solar.
  • Satellite Applications Catapult Ltd in Didcot – awarded £999,000 for an experiment to test the electronical steering and beam quality of its space satellite antenna technology. The company is also receiving over £424,000 for another project to study the advancement of commercial space-based solar power that can provide a reliable source of electricity for the UK.
  • Imperial College London – receiving £295,000 for a study to assess the key benefits and impacts of space solar, including how solar energy from space could be integrated into the electricity grid alongside other low-carbon energy sources.
  • EDF Energy R&D UK Centre Ltd – set to receive £25,000 for a study to improve knowledge of the value of introducing space based solar power into the UK’s grid.

The UK currently boasts the world’s four largest wind farms and roughly 15GW of solar power, with targets in place for the latter to rise to 70GW by 2030. The government wishes to make space based solar power a new clean energy industry for the UK by investing in its early stage development. £3.3m of the funding will be from the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero, with £1m coming from the UK Space Agency.

Dr Mamatha Maheshwarappa, Payload Systems Lead at the UK Space Agency, said:

“Space technology and solar energy have a long history – the need to power satellites was a key driver in increasing the efficiency of solar panels which generate electricity for homes and businesses today.

“There is significant potential for the space and energy sectors to work together to support the development of space-based solar power, and the UK Space Agency has contributed £1 million to these innovative projects to help take this revolutionary concept to the next level.”

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