China is tapping the boundless energy of the Sun with a space-based power plant that orbits 36,000 kilometers above the surface of the Earth.
According to a report by a state-backed newspaper, the construction of an early experimental space power plant is already underway in the city of Chongqing. If successful, China will become the first nation to harvest solar energy from space.
Benefits Of A Space-Based Power Plant
Scientists believe that harnessing the energy of the Sun from space will be more effective than the solar farms across the planet today. While solar panels on Earth are already doing a good job of contributing to the electricity mix, they have the disadvantage of collecting energy during a portion of the day. Add to that, changes in the weather can dramatically decrease the devices' ability to generate electricity.
China's planned space power plant will be void of such issues. According to Pang Zhihao, a researcher from the China Academy of Space Technology Corporation, the facility will be able to supply energy 99 percent of the time and at six times the intensity of the energy provided by solar farms on Earth.
China's Planned Giant Solar Farm
Researchers involved in the project are currently exploring the possibility of using a factory in space made up of robots and 3D-printing technology to construct the solar farm. The facility is estimated to be about 1,000 tons — a lot heavier than the 400-ton International Space Station.
A space factory will avoid the challenge of launching such a heavy structure into orbit.
The proposed power plant will convert solar energy into electricity in space before beaming it back to Earth through microwave or laser. A ground receiving system will be feeding the clean and renewable energy to the grid.
Aside from providing a clean and renewable source of energy to a power-hungry world that is still reliant on fossil fuel and coal, China is also hoping that the power plant will aid in the country's future deep space exploration.
China is hoping to launch small to medium solar power stations to the stratosphere no later than 2025. A megawatt-level facility is expected to be constructed by 2030. A gigawatt-level solar power station will be in place by 2050.
Japan has also previously revealed plans to construct a giant solar power plant in space.