The coming innovation in next-generation clean energy: Space Solar Power Systems (SSPS)
Major changes are needed to the Earth’s energy policy.
Caused by global warming and population explosion, energy shortages have become chronic, and demand for electric power such as the transition to EVs has grown dramatically.
Considering our environment, we have no choice but to move from thermal and nuclear power to clean energy. As of 2019, clean energy use has reached 18%.
A promising candidate for next-generation clean energy are Space Solar Power Systems (SPSS).
SPSS have a history that gives Japan an advantage.
A lab of Kyoto University has been doing continuous research and development on them since 1983.
A solar panel placed in space is 6.6 times more effective than a panel installed on the ground. However, the problem is that it costs money to transport electricity from space to the Earth’s surface.
According to initial estimates, construction costs would be about ¥1.3 trillion.
Space power generation and transmission system construction: ~¥570 billion
Ground-level power collection system construction: ~¥230 billion
Transport of parts: ~¥470 billion
Maintenance and operation: ~¥34 billion / year
The assumed method of construction would be to, from surface level, first launch many rockets carrying parts to low earth orbit (about 500 km above ground level), assemble those parts, and then use orbital transport vehicles to gradually move the parts 36,000 km above the Earth’s surface, achieving geosynchronous orbit.
By the way, SSPS with a power generation capacity of one million kW require solar panels with a total surface area of two square kilometers.
The most difficult part of this is the transportation of parts. According to a preliminary calculation, 500 rockets would be needed to launch SSPS parts. With current technology, it would cost an estimated ¥10 billion to launch a single rocket. In other words, for 500 launches, transportation costs alone would cost ¥5 trillion.
For this reason, the project would cost far more than nuclear power. This is the reason for NASA’s withdrawal. However, Japan decided to bet on SPSS. I think launch costs will decline due to Moore’s Law. There will likely be multiple innovative technologies in material science and other areas that will bring exponential progress.
Looking at the innovation of the past, all ridiculous, SF-like ideas have come to be a reality. A few years ago, no one had any respect for Tesla. Now, it has exceeded Toyota’s market capitalization.
An important point to remember is that, once this system is realized and we can live on the soon, the system will also be the easiest way to send electricity to the moon.
Japan’s zero-carbon “final weapon”: Leading the world in space solar power generation – Nihon Keizai Shimbun
Why technology-intensive Japan persists with space solar power generation despite NASA’s withdrawal and “foolish plan” criticism – The Sankei News