Ambitious Solar Power Project

By 2030 Japan hopes to be harnessing solar power in space and zapping it back to Earth using laser beams or microwaves. Consisting of a transmission panel and a gigantic solar power generator, a photovoltaic dish would sit in geostationary orbit outside the Earth’s atmosphere and parabolic antennae placed in the sea or in dams would collect the energy. The energy would be equal to the output of a large nuclear power plant.

Japan has long been a pioneer in the search for renewable energy sources and has recently set extremely ambitious greenhouse targets. The government has just appointed a number of companies with the task of finding an unlimited source of clean energy over the coming decades.

Solar energy is at least five times stronger in space than on Earth and as a clean and inexhaustible energy source the system could help to solve the issues of global warming and energy shortage. Japan’s space agency, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) believes this to be the solution that the world is looking for.

Recently the Economy and Trade Ministry and Science Ministry of Japan took another step towards making the solar power dream a reality by choosing several high-tech Japanese companies to participate in the project. Fujitsu, Sharp and Mitsubishi Electric are now all on board.

The first step will be to put a satellite into low orbit with a Japanese rocket to test the transmission by microwave. After this a large and flexible photovoltaic structure will be launched with a ten megawatt power capacity followed shortly thereafter by a 250 megawatt prototype.

All of this needs to be done not only to test the structure’s viability itself but to work out if it makes sense financially. The final aim of the project after all is to produce and provide cheap electricity which can compete with other alternative energies. The total project cost would be extremely large—perhaps in the tens of billions of dollars—but the aim is for the country to produce electricity at eight yen (cents) per kilowatt-hour which would be six times cheaper than its cost in Japan currently.

Numerous challenges face the project, not least from the public who have announced antipathy towards the idea of laser beams being shot down from the sky and possibly dicing up planes and birds in mid-air. Researchers also need to figure out how to get all of the components into space. However Japan has had this project under consideration for the past ten years and there are now approximately 130 skilled researchers working on the project.

It remains to be seen whether the project is a success, however it does bode well for the future when countries such as Japan commit energy, resources and finances into looking for alternative and healthy energy sources which will supply the coming generations. More and more money is being spent on research and support for the study of renewable energy and this can only be of benefit to the world as a whole.