In light of national European government commitments to achieve climate neutrality by 2050, a recent Frazer-Nash Consultancy-led cost benefit study has shown that space-based solar power (SBSP) could help diversify Europe’s energy generation sources - making the transition to Net Zero more achievable.
Delivered in partnership with London Economics, and commissioned by the European Space Agency (ESA), the report concluded that SBSP could provide continuous and dispatchable power that is not sensitive to terrestrial weather conditions, providing baseload energy as early as the mid-2030s, and allow the decommissioning of coal, oil, and gas plants.
Study lead, Sam White, Group Leader for Frazer-Nash’s Techno-Economic Assessment, explains:
“Space-based solar power is the concept of collecting solar energy in space, using very large satellites in geostationary earth orbit. The subsequent electricity in space is then converted to microwaves and beamed to a fixed point on Earth via wireless power transmission, where the electricity is generated by a large rectenna. A single satellite could provide between 1 GW and 2 GW of power.
“As electricity prices continue to rise, a Europe-wide space-based solar power programme could deliver over €180bn in benefits to Europe, and reduce reliance on the import of fossil fuels. This alternative energy solution offers greater energy security, subsequently reducing Europe’s vulnerability to price volatility, and energy-related geopolitics.
“The study provides a holistic assessment of the required investments, associated costs and risks, and expected strategic, environmental, economic, and societal benefits of adding a space-based energy source to the European energy mix to meet Net Zero carbon by 2050. A total of 54 solar satellites, each generating 1.4GW, are estimated to be required to meet the demand for space-based solar power by 2050, suggesting a large market for reusable low-cost launch, given the mass of a single system.”
Development of space-based solar power is anticipated to require €15.8bn of research and development investment over four phases, resulting in a first gigawatt-scale prototype in-orbit. Capital expenditure of €9.8bn is required for a first of a kind, fully operational system, or €7.6bn for the tenth system, as economies of scale drive costs down. At a 5% hurdle rate, the LCOE of the first system would be €69/MWh, making it cost competitive with other renewable technologies.
Space-based solar power is a land-efficient generation technology, using only 5m2 of land per MWh, far less than most other sources of renewable energy. It offers the opportunity to co-locate ground infrastructure with other uses such as agriculture.
Frazer-Nash Space Business Manager, James Cornish, who leads Space Energy at Frazer-Nash, said:
“We are proud to have supported ESA efforts to achieve Net Zero. Our study sets out the clear benefits that space-based solar power can offer Europe, and highlights the importance of public funding in de-risking the development of space-based solar power technology. This is Europe’s opportunity to establish itself as a global leader in space-based solar power, whilst providing energy security and high skilled jobs”.
ESA Director General, Josef Aschbacher, said:
“Space-based solar power would be an important step towards carbon neutrality and energy independence for Europe”.
Responding to the recommendation of the study Josef said:
“The focus for now is on exploring and developing technology that will be needed for SBSP, that can be leveraged for other space applications in case SBSP does not prove viable economically, technically or otherwise.”
London Economics Associate Director, Farooq Sabri, who led the cost-benefit analysis, said:
“This study demonstrates that space-based solar power is an attractive solution for Europe’s energy needs, by alleviating the heavy burden on nuclear and battery storage for intermittent sources to deliver low carbon, baseload energy. The scale of the opportunity and potential impact on the space industry is vast, and requires development today.”
Details on ESA’s SOLARIS programme to prepare the ground for future decisions on SBSP can be found here.
Read London Economics’ discussion: What can Space do for Europe’s future energy security? Space-Based Solar Power evaluated here.