Taking a leaf out of science fiction, China, is planning to build a solar power station in space, an idea initially mooted by Isaac Asimov in his short story ‘Reason’ in which he mentioned a space station transmitting energy from the sun using microwave beams. Given its large population and high growth rates, China surpassed USA a few years ago to become the world’s largest energy consumer (though its per capita consumption still remains much less, 6.2 metric tonnes, while USA is about double that). Given its reliance on fossil fuel, however, pollution and strategic energy security (given a large percentage is imported) is a major concern (clearly indicated by the recent Beijing smog reports) and China has long searched for alternative energy sources. Today, China leads the world leader in harnessing wind and solar power and smart grid technologies.
The new proposal is to install a huge solar power station, 36,000 kilometres over ground level. A space based solar panel shall be able to generate ten times more electricity as compared to that of a ground panel per unit area according to Duan Baoyan, a member of the Chinese Academy of Engineering. It would also be capable of battling smog, cutting GHG emissions, and providing a much needed round the year renewable energy source. Wang Xiji, an academician of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, says that “when space solar energy becomes our main energy, people will no longer worry about smog or the greenhouse effect”. He adds that an economically viable space power station would be huge, with the total area of the solar panels reaching 5 to 6 sq kms. This would make it equivalent to twelve Tiananmen Squares (the largest public square in the world) and people on earth would be able to see it in the night sky, like a star.
This latest development shows China’s commitment to harnessing renewable clean energies, which it made it the climate change deal last year with the USA, pledging to cap emissions latest by 2030 and increase use of energy from zero-emission sources to 20% by 2030. Solar based power stations, using a geosynchronous satellite fitted with solar panels has been in research but not found to be technically or financially viable till now. Extensive use of wireless technologies and new developments in the field seems to have made it a possibility in the future. Therefore though outlandish for now, it may actually become a reality soon.
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