The UK Government has commissioned systems, engineering and technology consultancy, Frazer-Nash, and global forecasting and quantitative analysis company, Oxford Economics, to carry out an independent study into space-based solar power (SBSP).
The study, for the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), will investigate the potential of the power generation concept, which uses large Solar Power Satellites to collect solar energy, convert it into high frequency radio waves, and safely beam it back to ground-based receivers connected to the electrical power grid.
Martin Soltau, Space Business Manager at Frazer-Nash said:
“Decarbonising our economy is vital. We need to explore new technologies to provide clean, affordable, secure and dependable energy for the nation. Using the power of the sun, space-based solar power is a low-carbon, renewable technology that could potentially offer us a resilient, safe and sustainable energy source, and could make a substantial contribution to delivering on the UK’s commitment to Net Zero by 2050.
“The idea was first suggested by science-fiction writer, Isaac Asimov, back in 1941 – eighty years later, advances in wireless power transmission technology and lightweight solar panels are making the concept potentially feasible, and the lower cost of commercial space launch may make it economically viable.”
Martin outlined what the Frazer-Nash Consultancy and Oxford Economics study will involve:
“We’ll be considering the engineering feasibility and economics of space-based solar power, exploring whether it could deliver affordable energy to consumers and the engineering and technology that would be required to build it. There would be a number of issues to be overcome: for example, assembling the massive satellites in orbit hasn’t been done before at this scale.
“We are studying the leading international Solar Power Satellite designs, and forming an expert panel, comprised of leading SBSP experts and space and energy organisations, to gain a range of industry views. We have partnered with Oxford Economics, which has significant experience in the space sector and which will provide additional insight into the economic assessment of the system, and the benefits to the UK economy.
“The study will provide an independent assessment as to whether it is feasible, from an engineering perspective, to develop SBSP to an operational capability by 2050 – including considering through-life costs and comparing SBSP alongside other forms of renewable energy, to see how it would contribute as part of a future mix of clean energy technologies.”
“SBSP has the potential to contribute substantially to UK energy generation, and offers many benefits if it can be made practical and affordable. With expertise in the space, energy and aerospace sectors, and a strong understanding of existing SBSP technologies, their relative merits and maturity, Frazer-Nash is well placed to assess the potential of this concept.”
The report has been commissioned jointly by the UK Space Agency (UKSA) and Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. The outputs of the study will provide an evidence base for UK government, informing its decisions on future investigation and investment into SBSP.
- The study will provide an independent view for the government of the engineering feasibility, the costs and economic benefits of space-based solar power for the UK. There are also broader societal, political, and regulatory considerations which are not part of this study and which would need to be looked at in the future.
- Other nations, including the USA, Japan and China, are actively studying space-based solar power.
- As part of the study, we are looking at the leading three SBSP concepts, from the USA (SPS Alpha), UK (CASSIOPeiA) and China (MR-SPS). SBSP experts John Mankins (USA) and Ian Cash (UK) – the inventors of the first two concepts – are supporting our study.
- The potential benefits claimed for space solar power are:
- Clean, zero carbon source of energy
- Gigawatt levels of base load energy, provided 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year
- Affordable cost of energy for homes and industry
- Secure and resilient, and indefinite fuel supply
- Relatively low land usage (compared to wind and terrestrial solar)
- Good integration with the existing power distribution grid
- Could be developed and made operational by 2050, in time to make a substantial contribution to Net Zero
- Rapid carbon pay-back period against the cost of manufacture and launch.
- Some key challenges are:
- The scale of engineering, to build a satellite of that size in orbit
- The economics: can it really deliver the claimed Levelised Cost of Energy?
- International regulation of the radio frequency (RF) spectrum