One of the big downsides of solar power is how dependent it is on local weather conditions. If it’s rainy or overcast, you can’t harvest much energy during the day. During winter, the shortened hours of daylight mean solar panels won’t be soaking up much sunlight. In an effort to address these kinds of seasonal and weather variations, Japan is developing an innovative new system for collecting solar energy from space.
The solar stations would consist of geostationary satellites sitting 36,000 km above the Earth, which would transmit collected energy back down to the planet in the form of laser beams or microwaves. Right now, the Japanese government and their space agency, JAXA, aren’t completely sure of the best way to transmit this energy over long distances, so they’re conducting ground-based experiments to learn more. Given Japan’s recent solar energy boom, this seems like the next logical step in the country’s solar research.
While there are a number of technological challenges that need to be resolved before this idea can be implemented, results so far are promising. The project has officially transitioned from simply being a concept to the necessary technology being created and demonstrated. All told, JAXA officials expect the system to be ready for practical use in the 2030s.
It’s worth nothing that NASA is researching a similar system right now, and hopes to have a prototype ready to send into space by 2025. But with practically the entire agency currently shut down and faced with massive potential funding cuts, it will be interesting to see which country is able to launch a satellite first.
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