Considered to be one of the best renewable energy sources, solar energy is best defined as the heat and radiant light generated from the Sun. This energy has found applications in several areas like solar thermal energy, solar heating, photovoltaics, etc. As it is widely available, solar energy is a top choice when it comes to generating electricity.
Technology in this field is rapidly expanding with the widespread use of solar panels and massive solar power stations like the Ivanpah Solar Power Facility in the United States or the Solnova Solar Power Station in Spain. But how will humans harness the energy of the Sun in the future?
This piece is going to provide more information on the exciting future of solar.
Space-Based Solar Farms
This is one of the most futuristic concepts for the use of solar energy in the future. These solar farms in space will be designed to deliver power at any location on Earth, something that is not possible at the moment.
Space-based solar farms are also going to solve all the technical and functional problems with the current systems of solar energy usage. At the current development rate, scientists believe that space-based solar farms will be available for widespread use in about 30 years.
The concept of having massive solar farms anchored in space was first pioneered in 1968 by Peter Edward Glaser. An American aerospace engineer and scientist, Glaser is widely considered and respected as the brain behind satellites powered by solar energy.
Ever since Glaser came up with the suggestion of coming up with space-based solar energy farms, it has sparked a lot of interest and attention among scientists. But even though several attempts have been made regarding it, they have not succeeded with it.
Also called space-based solar power (SBSP), this method of capturing and harnessing energy is dependent on the reality that sunlight in space has practically no interruption or obstacles in the way. This is different from the present forms of solar technology, which is enormously influenced by the weather. For example, solar panels can only be charged during the daytime. This does not happen with space-based solar farms.
By using space-based solar farms, there will be no problem of blackouts at night or rough weather affecting the solar panels. Apart from this, the sunlight beyond the atmosphere of the Earth has a higher level of intensity than the one that reaches the surface of the Earth.
But for this dream to become a reality, there will be a need to develop and send inflatable modules right into space. These modules will aggregate together in the shape of a bell, and as they are equipped with mirrors, they can re-orient and concentrate the Sun’s rays upon the solar panels. They then transmit the energy down to the Earth, as if the solar energy is beamed down to the planet from the depths of space.
The problems linked with this space-based system prevent it from being used at the moment but it will be a major source of energy in the future. The main obstacle is the ability to get the concentrated energy down to Earth.
This is because the solar farms’ energy in space can only be transmitted down to Earth like microwaves or by using massive lasers. This entire set up is incredibly expensive compared to the energy output. That said, there is a lot of hope that this particular challenge will be solved with time, and space-based solar farms will become a reality.
Even though the first type of solar chimney was constructed in 1981 in Manzanares in Spain, solar vents are far from conventional, and scientists think they will make a massive comeback in the future.
These solar chimneys (also called solar updraft towers) use every bit of available solar energy. They do not depend on direct solar radiation alone and that is a significant benefit. They can be installed in different parts of the globe and are relatively cheaper. However, solar chimneys’ efficiency is still low and can only be widely accepted in the future once the efficiency is optimized.
In what is known as a solar pond, additional water layers containing increasing content of salt are poured into a pond. The rays of the Sun are then absorbed into the lower sections of the pond, thus producing a temperature gradient, which is then utilized in powering a heat engine. Solar ponds are affordable, and there are still ongoing efforts to increase their solar conversion of efficiency. If this ratio of efficiency is maximized, solar ponds can be a big deal in the future.