UK government pledges £4.3 million to develop space-based solar

solar panel

The UK government says it will provide £4.3 million towards eight projects that promise to advance the state of space-based solar power.

Energy Security Secretary Grant Shapps was scheduled to make the announcement at London Tech Week on 13 June.

Spaced-based solar power collects energy from the Sun using panels on satellites and beaming it safely back to earth with wireless technology.

The winning projects include Cambridge University, who will develop ultra-lightweight solar panels for the satellites that can function in the high-radiation conditions of space, and Queen Mary University in London, who are working on a wireless system to enable the solar power collected in space to be transferred to earth.

This technology – which is in the early stages of development – has huge potential to boost the UK’s energy security, reduce the need for fossil fuels and drive down household bills by providing solar power all year round, as the Sun visible for over 99% of the time.

An independent study in 2021, appeared to find that space-based solar power could generate up to 10GW of electricity a year, a quarter of the UK’s power needs, by 2050. It could create a multi-billion pound industry, with 143,000 jobs across the country – supporting one of the Prime Minister’s priorities to grow the economy.

The UK is among several countries, including Japan and United States, committed to the development of space-based solar power. Earlier this month, scientists at the California Institute of Technology claimed to have achieved a world-first by successfully transmitting solar power to Earth from space.

The eight projects to be awarded funding from the government’s Space Based Solar Power Innovation Competition, part of the flagship £1 billion Net Zero Innovation Portfolio, are as follows:

  • The University of Cambridge are receiving over £770,000 to develop ultra-lightweight solar panels that can survive long periods in high-radiation environments like the conditions in space. This will help increase the lifetime of these satellites, improve energy yields and lower the cost per unit of energy.
  • Queen Mary University in London will receive over £960,000 to develop a wireless power transmission system with high efficiency over a long range, to support the technology to beam solar power from the satellites back to Earth.
  • MicroLink Devices UK Ltd in Port Talbot, South Wales, have been awarded over £449,000 to develop the next generation of lightweight, flexible solar panels, which could be used for solar satellites.
  • The University of Bristol are receiving over £353,000 to produce a simulation of solar space wireless power transfer capability to explore the possibilities of this technology, and provide further evidence on the performance, safety, and reliability of space based solar.
  • Satellite Applications Catapult Ltd in Didcot have been awarded over £999,000 for an experiment to test the electronical steering and beam quality of its space satellite antenna technology.  The company are receiving over £424,000 for another project to study how to advance commercial space-based solar power that can provide a reliable source of electricity for the UK.
  • Imperial College London are receiving over £295,000 for a study to assess the key benefits and impacts of space solar, including how solar energy from space could be integrated into the electricity grid alongside other low-carbon energy sources.
  • EDF Energy R&D UK Centre Ltd will receive over £25,000 for a study to improve knowledge of the value of introducing space based solar power into the UK’s grid.

The government says it aims to make space solar a new clean energy industry for the UK, investing in its early-stage development with the £4.3m funding announced on 13 June, including £3.3m from the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero and £1m from the UK Space Agency.

This new industry builds on historical links between space technology and the development of solar power as a clean energy source, said a press release from the government. “It is bringing together the UK’s space and energy industries, with the nation’s leading researchers and entrepreneurs in these sectors joining forces to realise the transformative potential of space-based solar power.”

Dr Mamatha Maheshwarappa, Payload Systems Lead at the UK Space Agency, said:

“Space technology and solar energy have a long history – the need to power satellites was a key driver in increasing the efficiency of solar panels which generate electricity for homes and businesses today.

“There is significant potential for the space and energy sectors to work together to support the development of space-based solar power, and the UK Space Agency has contributed £1 million to these innovative projects to help take this revolutionary concept to the next level.”