Japan and JAXA, the country’s space administration, are trying to make it possible to send solar energy from space. In 2015, the country made a breakthrough when JAXA scientists successfully transmitted 1.8 kilowatts of power, enough power to power an electric kettle, to a wireless receiver. And now, Japan is preparing to bring the technology one step closer to reality.
Reports indicate that a Japanese public-private partnership will attempt to send solar energy from space as early as 2025. The project, led by Naoki Shinohara, a professor at Kyoto University who has been working in space solar energy since 2009, will attempt to deploy a series of satellites small industrial orbit. They will then attempt to send the solar energy collected by the arrays to ground receiving stations hundreds of miles away.
The use of orbital solar panels and microwaves to send energy to Earth was first proposed in 1968. Since then, few countries, including the United States, have spent time and money pursuing this idea. This technology is attractive because orbital solar arrays represent an unlimited renewable energy resource. In space, solar panels can collect energy no matter what time of day it is, and by using microwaves to beam the energy they produce, clouds aren’t a concern either. However, even if Japan succeeds in deploying an array of orbiting solar arrays, the technology will still be closer to science fiction than fact. That’s because producing an array that can generate 1 gigawatt of power—or about the output of a single nuclear reactor—would cost about $7 billion using currently available technologies.