The North Sea to Receive Solar Power from Space
The UK and Saudi Arabia are working together to launch solar panels into space to send electricity back to Earth. The panels will beam down radio waves to antennae at the North Sea, which will then convert it back into usable electricity. UK-based Space Solar Ltd has received financial backing from the Saudi Arabian government for this scheme, which will be able to produce electricity 24 hours a day.
When launched into space, the solar panel array will be assembled by robots and is set to be a mile wide, weighing an immense 2,000 tonnes. It will start converting sunlight into high-frequency radio waves, which it will then transmit to the surface of the Earth, where it will be picked up by antennae spread over a few miles. These radio waves can be converted back into electricity.
This far-out idea has never become a reality, as different countries have vied for dominance over the space solar farm concept. America, Japan and China are all working on similar projects and the UK is battling for first place now that it’s become part of this space race. It won’t be coming anytime soon though, as it’s expected to be ready by 2040.
The solar project will have the input of Neom, the new Saudi Arabian city that is being built in the desert at an estimated cost of £408 billion. They are helping to fund the project to eventually benefit from carbon free power to the new city. Both Neom and the UK Government have set £3.5 million towards the space solar panel project, but a recent feasibility study from Frazer-Nash estimates the cost will be in the tens of billions.
Space solar power has the potential to greatly help achieve net zero targets, as well as energy security. It will define a new age of energy generation and provide a constant stream of solar power. China is looking to be the first to beam space solar power back to Earth, with a view to launch a mile-long fleet into the atmosphere by 2028, according to some reports. With new technology, however, comes setbacks and development. Where several countries are racing to be the first, the ones left behind can benefit from improvements and the insight of peer reviews.
Sadly, the backing of the Saudi city Neom has come under heavy criticism. Indigenous people who have lived near the site of the new city have been jailed by the Saudi Arabian government for decades for simply objecting to their land being seized and built upon. Members of the Howeitat tribe were handed 50 year sentences and travel bans for being forcibly evicted from the site. Human rights groups in the UK have said this has followed a dangerous pattern of behaviour from the Saudis, which has seen water and electricity supplies being cut as well as the use of surveillance drones. Like we saw with the World Cup in Qatar, if you have enough money, you can drown out the sound of human rights protests.