China tests technology that could beam solar power from space to Earth

Chinese researchers have successfully tested a full-system model of technology that could one day wirelessly transmit solar power from outer space to Earth.

A model power station at Xidian University in Shaanxi province captures sunlight high above the ground and converts it into microwave beams. It then transmits through the air to a receiver station on the ground, where it can be converted back to electricity. While the model only sends the energy 55 meters through the air, the researchers hope the technology could one day be expanded to send power from orbiting solar panels to Earth.

The research team behind it recently conducted tests in front of a panel of outside experts, who verified its success on June 5, the university said in a press release.

The promise of solar power from space is that it would eliminate the clean energy technology’s biggest drawback — not being able to operate in darkness — by putting the panels in orbit where they can evade Earth’s shadow.

China isn’t the only country looking into the technology. Researchers at the California Institute of Technology launched a space solar program after a $100 million grant in 2013. Researchers in India, Russia, the UK and France are also exploring possibilities, and Japan is particularly advanced in the field, according to Xidian. While individual components of solar-from-space technology have been tested before, the Chinese researchers are the first to successfully test a full-system model, Xidian said

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