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2022-08-24 21:28

ESA presents cost vs. benefit studies on solar power plants in space

The European Space Agency (ESA) has launched a Request for Information (RFI) to companies and organizations for its »Solaris« program on space-based solar power (SBSP). ESA wants to quickly gather information on the European industry’s view of the state of the art and challenges on the way to operational SBSP systems. Submissions are open until September 14.

As part of the Solaris program, ESA has also submitted two studies on the topic. Roland Berger GmbH (Germany) and Frazer-Nash Consultancy in cooperation with London Economics Ltd. (UK) evaluated the technical and economic potential. SBSP concepts are based on giant photovoltaic satellites whose energy is transmitted to earth either (the generally favored assumption) by focused microwaves or by laser. The theoretical feasibility is considered proven, advantages are the almost 100 percent efficiency of the systems and the 24/7 availability of energy, which can also be directed to any place on earth, i.e. »exported« by the operating countries.
Both studies come to the conclusion that, although there are enormous technical challenges, it is likely that these will be solved in the coming decades. The progress already achieved, especially in the cost-effective transport of large loads into space, is sufficient reason to re-evaluate the feasibility of SBSP, as are the existing programs in China, the USA and UK, which are already operating with fixed deadlines. The EU should not be left behind here.
Compared to the costs that can be expected from today’s perspective – Frazer-Nash, for example, estimates 418 billion euros (USD 417.5 billion) for a program with 54 SBSP satellites by 2070 – the advantages would be in a positive ratio. Frazer-Nash puts them at 601 billion euros. Roland Berger, too, concludes that SBPS »has strong potential to become a competitive renewable technology.« Nevertheless, both studies naturally work with a large number of assumptions and input variables that are currently still completely open.
European Space Agency (ESA)