Earth is blessed with an abundance of renewable energy sources that don’t pollute and never disappear completely. And at any given moment, there is enough sunshine, wind, and geothermal activity to cover the world’s total electricity needs.

The problem is that many of these renewable power sources are intermittent. It’s hard to predict, in advance, how much solar energy you’ll be able to create. The same is true of wind power, which oscillates throughout the day.

This is why scientists and entrepreneurs love the idea of sending solar photovoltaic (PV) panels into outer space. Because the sun never sets in space, we would have reliable access to energy – 24/7. That’s precisely why NASA’s satellites usually come equipped with PV panels.

But there’s a problem.

Getting solar PV systems in space is easy. Getting that clean electricity back to Earth is where the challenge lies.

But despite this hurdle, scientists believe they’re on the cusp of transforming this idea into a reality.

How Solar PV Systems in Space Would Actually Work

There are lots of competing approaches to how we could send PV systems into space. But the most popular strategy involves using robots to assemble thousands of modules in a geosynchronous orbit around the planet. These modules would come with mirrors that help to concentrate sunlight for optimal power generation.

The modules would also come with converters that can transform solar electricity into low intensity microwaves. The microwaves would then be beaned down to terrestrial receivers. And the electromagnetic radiation would be converted into usable electricity.

The really cool thing is that we already have most of the tools and technology to make this work. The main obstacle is funding. Researchers estimate that getting a project like this off the ground would cost about $5 billion.

That might seem like a lot. But we invest far more resources for other power generation technologies:

  • The 3 Gorges Dam in China cost over $28 billion to build.
  • The Watts Bar Nuclear Plant cost nearly $5 billion.

And these price tags don’t include the environmental costs associated with cleanups, spills, polluted air, radioactive waste, and public health.

So in a way, sending solar PV systems into outer space is actually a bargain. And because this innovative approach is scalable, we could add as much solar capacity as we need – without harming the planet.

Who knows if we’ll ever use space-based solar installations? But it’s still a cool idea.