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Europe explores solar farms in space with Solaris programme

The European Space Agency (ESA) is exploring the potential of space-based solar power (SBSP) to address issues of energy intermittency on Earth. As part of the Solaris program, the ESA is investigating the possibility of using 24-hour sunlight in space to provide clean energy for Europe as early as the 2030s, with the goal of helping the continent achieve its net-zero targets. SBSP relies on existing technologies that have been proven to work on Earth, and the ESA envisions large solar farms orbiting the Earth, collecting sunlight and beaming the energy down to receiver stations on Earth via microwaves or laser beams. The ESA believes that SBSP could help overcome the key problems associated with a full transition away from fossil fuels, including intermittency of supply, pressures on land use, scalability, and toxic waste. The agency has identified several technical challenges, including delivering high-efficiency photovoltaic and power conversion and deploying, assembling, and maintaining large-scale structures in space. It is also investigating potential risks to human, animal, and plant health and the impact of beam interference on aviation and ground infrastructure. The ESA’s Solaris program has received funding and is in the preparatory stage, partnering with European industry to assess technical feasibility and other benefits and risks. Other space agencies, including those in the US, China, and Japan, are also investigating SBSP, with varying levels of progress.