China Unveils Plan to Orbit Solar Power Station

A plan to build and orbit a Chinese solar energy station for commercial use by 2040 has been developed by space technology pioneer Wang Xiji. The plan calls for a complete analysis of space solar power applications, detailed design of system solutions and verification of key technologies by 2020.

“The development of a solar power station in space will fundamentally change the way in which people exploit and obtain power,” said Wang while presenting the results of his team’s research at the China Academy of Sciences.

“Whoever takes the lead in the development and utilization of clean and renewable energy and the space and aviation industry will be the world leader,” said Wang at the fourth China Energy Environment Summit Forum on Aug 28.

Wang, 90, believes such a station will trigger a technical revolution in the fields of new energy, new material, solar power and electricity, and possibly even another industrial revolution.

Wang envisions the program using existing technology to launch solar-collector satellites into geostationary orbit. These satellites would convert the sun’s radiation into electricity 24 hours a day and safely transmit it via microwaves to rectifying antennas on Earth. The concept had first been proposed in 1968 by U.S. space expert Peter Glaser.

Currently, the U.S., Japan, Europe and Russia have plans to invest several billion dollars to establish a number of 1 million-kilowatt power stations between 2030 and 2040.

Though China has taken no such steps for a space-based solar energy station, it has made rapid progress in developing earth-based solar power. In 2010 China had 800,000 kilowatts of solar photovoltaic power capacity and 168 million square meters of area using solar-powered water heating.

China’s 12th five-year plan aims to boost the country’s solar photovoltaic power generation capacity to 10 million kilowatts by 2015 and 20 million kilowatts by 2020.

The efficiencies that can be realized by an orbiting solar power station would let it harness five times the solar energy captured by comparable stations on the ground.