Image Credit: Caltech
MAPLE’s Space Solar Power Demonstrator (SSPD-1) prototype has successfully beamed power from space to Earth. The prototype satellite was successfully launched into orbit in January 2023
The Sun is an immense powerhouse, without which life on Earth would be impossible. It would be too dark and too cold for life as we know it to exist. Then again, it is not the only factor determining life’s existence on Earth.
Human activities, for one, seem hellbent on making life on Earth unbearable. That is if you go by the axioms of global warming. Man’s industrial and technological revolution continuously releases greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, warming the planet.
The Limitation of Green Energy
Proponents of green energy are very vocal against the continued burning of carbon energy sources such as oil, coal, and natural gas. Instead, they’re advocating for using green energy sources like solar and wind energy.
The problem with green energy is that – for the most part – they are not available on demand. The Sun only shines during the day; its quality and quantity are subject to cloud cover, altitude, and latitude. In most places, the wind’s speed and direction can be erratic and completely unavailable in some seasons.
Uninterruptible Solar Energy in Space
The problem with harnessing solar energy is that the Earth rotates. At night, the solar panels will be on the dark side of the Earth’s rotation. Despite the fact the Sun’s shine on Earth remains constant and has been so for the past billions of years.
Additionally, there is little skepticism that the Sun will not continue shining on Earth for the next billions of years. In a nutshell, it is an inexhaustible power source with zero carbon emissions. The only problem is that humans have been harnessing this power from Earth’s surface, which keeps on rotating away from the Sun.
Beaming Electricity Wirelessly from Space
Caltech – California Institute of Technology – runs a space program called MAPLE (Microwave Array for Power-transfer Low-orbit Experiment). This program sends solar panels into low orbit space and wirelessly beams the electricity to a ground station.
The program uses microwave technology to zap power harnessed by the solar panels back to ground stations. The greatest advantage of the program is that solar energy has far fewer distractions in terms of harvesting compared to solar panels on the ground surface.
“In the same way that the internet democratized access to information, we hope that wireless energy transfer democratizes access to energy. No energy transmission infrastructure will be needed on the ground to receive this power. That means we can send energy to remote regions and areas devastated by war or natural disaster,” said Ali Hajimiri, Bren Professor of Electrical Engineering and Medical Engineering.
This project promises to avail power to even the remotest parts of the planet without the need first to install the traditional expensive power transmission infrastructure. All that is needed is a few portable ground receivers that will get the electricity being beamed down from space using wireless microwave technology.