UK universities and tech firms get £4.3m in funding to develop solar power in space | Climate News

British tech companies and universities are set to receive millions of pounds in investment to develop new technologies to generate solar energy from space.

The burgeoning technology uses solar panels attached to satellites to harvest energy from the sun and beam it back to Earth using wireless technology.

Energy Security Secretary Grant Shapps said generating electricity from space has huge potential to improve the UK’s energy security.

“By winning this new space race, we can transform the way we power our nation and provide cheaper, cleaner and safer energy for generations to come,” said Mr. Shapps, who will speak at this afternoon’s More details are available in the London Tech Week presentation.

The Space Solar Prototype, launched into orbit in January, is operational and has demonstrated for the first time its ability to transmit power wirelessly in space and beam detectable power to Earth.  MAPLE demonstrated wireless power transfer, one of three key technologies tested on the Space Solar Power Demonstrator (SSPD-1), the first spaceborne prototype of Caltech's Space Solar Power Program (SSPP). SSPP aims to harvest solar energy in space and transmit it to Earth
Caltech unveiled a satellite solar prototype this month.Photo: Caltech Space Solar Project

A winning project comes from researchers at the University of Cambridge who will develop extremely lightweight solar panels capable of operating in high-radiation conditions. Queen Mary University of London is creating a wireless system to transmit energy harvested in space to Earth.

An independent study commissioned by the government in 2021 found that space-based solar could generate up to 10GW of electricity per year by 2050, accounting for a quarter of the UK’s electricity needs.

Some experts believe the government should develop more wind and solar power in the UK, where onshore wind remains subject to a de facto ban.

The IPPR think tank recently called the UK’s planning system “far from fit” for a net-zero world, calling for restrictions on onshore wind and solar to be lifted and for all new homes to be fitted with solar panels.

Luke Murphy, IPPR Deputy Director, said: “Governments are right to support space-based solar power, but here on Earth, their policies hinder the deployment of renewable energy and the achievement of energy security.

“Reaching for the stars is laudable, but the more mundane removal of planning restrictions on onshore wind and solar would go a long way in ensuring UK energy security, reducing consumer energy bills and achieving net zero emissions.”

Earlier this month, scientists at the California Institute of Technology said they had launched a prototype into space that demonstrated for the first time its ability to beam detectable energy to Earth.

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Astronaut returns to Earth by parachute after space mission

Dr Mamatha Maheshwarappa, Head of Payload Systems at the UK Space Agency, said that although the technology is still in its infancy, space and solar power have a long history.

“The need to power satellites is a key driver for improving the efficiency of solar panels that generate electricity for homes and businesses today,” he said.

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

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