The concept of space-based solar power was introduced way back in 1968, but it’s only recently that the world has latched on to the idea. Japan is definitely getting in on the action with its latest spacey plan – a $21 billion solar-powered generator in the heavens to produce one gigawatt of energy, or enough to power 294,000 homes. The Japanese government announced the plan back in June, but there has been an important new development – Mitsubishi Electric Corp. and industrial design company IHI Corp. are now teaming up in the race to develop new technology within four years that can beam electricity back to Earth without the use of cables.
Mitsubishi and IHI are joining a research group containing 14 other countries to tackle the daunting task of getting Japan’s four square kilometer solar space station up and running in the next three decades. By 2015, the Japanese government hopes to test a small satellite decked out with solar panels that beams power through space and back to Earth.
There are still a number of hurdles to work through before space-based solar power becomes a reality though. Transportation of the solar panels into space is too expensive at the moment to be commercially viable, so Japan has to figure out a way to lower costs. Even if costs are lowered, solar stations will have to worry about damage from micrometeoroids and other flying objects. Still, space-based solar operates perfectly under all weather conditions, unlike Earth-based panels that are at the mercy of the clouds.
Japan isn’t the only country in the race for space power. Solaren and California’s Pacific Gas and Electric utility are working together on a project to deliver 200 megawatts of power from space over a 15-year period that begins in 2015.