The plan to put giant solar panels in space

Original? Outer space solar panels were first thought up 100 years ago by a Russian scientist. © John C. Mankins

Is unlimited electricity a good idea? The UK government might soon build mile-wide solar power stations in space that can beam energy back to Earth. It could mean never-ending, green power.

What’s happening

The year is 2050. Electric cars zoom along roads. Lights are on all day and night. The world runs on endless, free solar power.

This vision could soon become reality. Last week, the UK government announced it was considering plans to plant vast solar panels in space.

Find out more

The futuristic plans involve five huge stations floating 24,000 miles above the planet. The power stations would weigh several thousand tonnes – more than 20 blue whales.

Each one would be made up of thousands of small pieces, made on earth but put together in space by robots. The solar panels would work using mirrors to capture the sun’s energy.

The government hopes the technology could help the country stop burning fossil fuels.

The UK already has plans to use wind and nuclear power to reduce CO2, but the sun provides an endless source of energy. In space, there are no clouds and no nights – making sunlight constant.

If the plan works, the whole world may be using space solar before long. But would unlimited electricity be a good idea?

Some say…

Absolutely! Having endless power would mean we could keep the lights on all the time for free. Plus, we would not have to worry about the environment. We could keep our rooms bright on gloomy evenings. Cities could put on spectacular public light shows every week. And going to the cinema would be cheaper. It’s a great idea!

Others think…

No. We would get used to being in light all the time. Cities would never turn any lights off. We would forget how to appreciate natural sunlight. Nights would never be starry. And if there was ever a power cut, we would be lost. We would forget how to get around in the dark. It might sound fun, but endless electricity would end in disaster.

You Decide

  1. Is the sun the Earth’s most precious resource? If not, what is?

Activities

  1. Imagine there was a power cut for a year. Think of everything that would be affected and come up with a plan for working around it. What will you use for lights? What will you do if you cannot watch TV? How will you keep in touch with friends?

Some People Say...

“The sun, with all those planets revolving around it and dependent on it, can still ripen a bunch of grapes as if it had nothing else in the universe to do.”

Galileo Galilei, Italian astronomer

What do you think?

Word Watch

Solar power
Energy made using the sun’s power. “Solar” is a word that describes anything to do with the sun.
Solar panels
A set of cells usually used on top of rooves or in huge fields to convert sunlight into energy. On Earth, they only work when the sun shines brightly. They do not work in cloud or during the night.
Blue whales
The largest animal on the planet. They weigh up to 150,000kg.
Technology
A kind of scientific method for solving a practical problem. Modern technologies include mobile phones and artificial intelligence.
Burning fossil fuels
Fossil fuels are energy sources like coal and oil. We burn them to make energy, but when they are burnt they release greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. This causes global warming.
Nuclear
Something nuclear is something to do with the nucleus of an atom – the important section at its centre. Nuclear power is made by splitting apart atoms: when this happens, a huge amount of heat is released. Nuclear power produces little carbon dioxide, but radiation produced can be dangerous and waste products are difficult to throw away safely.
Spectacular
Something marvellous or wonderful.

PDF Download

Please click on "Print view" at the top of the page to see a print friendly version of the article.