Space reflectors could ensure bright future for solar power farms
by Sophie Jenkins
Glasgow UK (SPX) Feb 06, 2024
Researchers at the University of Glasgow have taken a significant step forward in the quest for sustainable energy solutions with their latest study on the potential of orbiting solar reflectors. Published in the journal Acta Astronautica, their research unveils a pioneering method to augment the energy output of large-scale solar farms by harnessing additional sunlight reflected from space-based mirrors, extending the power generation window beyond sunset.
The paper, a result of advanced computer simulations, outlines the feasibility of deploying 20 gossamer-like reflectors into a 1000-kilometer orbit above Earth. These reflectors, strategically positioned near the planet’s terminator line in a Walker constellation-a satellite arrangement ensuring consistent Earth coverage-could illuminate solar farms with extra sunlight for two hours daily. This novel approach promises to scale up solar energy production, addressing the critical demand for electricity during the early evening hours.
Dr. Onur Celik, a leading figure from the James Watt School of Engineering at the University of Glasgow and the corresponding author of the study, emphasized the growing role of solar power in achieving net-zero goals. He highlighted the rapid decline in solar panel costs as a catalyst for the widespread adoption of solar energy, underscoring the technology’s limitation to daylight hours. “Orbiting solar reflectors present an innovative solution to maximize solar farms’ output, potentially revolutionizing locations and effectiveness of future solar energy projects,” Dr. Celik remarked.
This research is part of SOLSPACE, a groundbreaking initiative spearheaded by the University of Glasgow with a euro 2.5 million grant from the European Research Council under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 program. Professor Colin McInnes, SOLSPACE’s principal investigator, reflects on the historical context of space reflectors, noting their conceptual discussions dating back to the 1920s and practical demonstrations in the early ’90s.
The SOLSPACE project aims to advance these ideas significantly, leveraging modern technological capabilities and the decreasing cost of space launches to propose a feasible, large-scale application of orbital reflector technology for global clean energy services.
The team’s findings suggest that the deployment of 20 such reflectors could produce an additional 728 megawatt-hours of electricity daily, akin to the output of a large solar farm, but without the need for extensive land use or infrastructure development.
This approach not only promises to enhance the efficiency of solar power generation but also offers a sustainable pathway to meet the escalating global energy demand while mitigating climate change impacts.
As the world grapples with the urgent need for clean energy solutions, the University of Glasgow’s research offers a glimpse into the potential of space-based technologies to complement terrestrial efforts in renewable energy generation. The integration of orbiting solar reflectors with solar farms could mark a significant leap in our pursuit of sustainability, demonstrating the untapped potential of space to contribute to Earth’s energy matrix.
The team’s paper, titled ‘A constellation design for orbiting solar reflectors to enhance terrestrial solar energy’, is published in Acta Astronautica. The research was supported by funding from the European Research Council under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme (grant agreement No. 883730).