€2.5m project set to shed light on future of solar power generation from space

Published: 31 March 2020

A new project which will explore the possibility of using space-based reflectors to shine additional sunlight towards future large-scale solar power farms at dawn and dusk has won backing from the European Research Council.

A new project which will explore the possibility of using space-based reflectors to shine additional sunlight towards future large-scale solar power farms at dawn and dusk has won backing from the European Research Council. Colin McInnes

Professor Colin McInnes of the University of Glasgow’s James Watt School of Engineering has received a €2.5m ERC Advanced Grant to support five years of research into new ways of maximising solar power generation.

Professor McInnes’ project, titled ‘SOLSPACE: Enhancing Global Clean Energy Services Using Orbiting Solar Reflectors’, will employ four postdoctoral researchers to work with him to devise, develop and demonstrate strategies for increasing the amount of energy produced by future large-scale solar power farms around the world. 

Their work will outline the potential benefits of creating a constellation of gossamer-thin satellite reflectors. The reflectors would redirect sunlight from orbit towards future large-scale solar power farm on earth at the start and end of each day, when consumer demand for power is at its peak but the output of solar farms is weakest.

They will research the most efficient orbits  and control strategies for the reflectors so that they can generate the maximum additional power on the ground while minimising the amount of stray light which reaches the earth.

The team will also work to develop and demonstrate in the laboratory new methods to automate the fabrication of such delicate reflectors in space, for example using 3D printing methods, lessening the danger of them being damaged during ascent to orbit and deployment. 

Professor McInnes said: “The broad range of services delivered by the space sector are information-based; satellite navigation, telecommunications and Earth observation. However, the possibility of delivering energy from space offers entirely new opportunities for the future.. 

“The delivery of global clean energy services is one the key challenges for the 21st century. I’m delighted to have received this Advanced Grant from the European Research Council and I’m looking forward to starting work with our team on this exciting project to understand how space technology can contribute to the future of global energy services.”

Professor McInnes was appointed as the Royal Academy of Engineering Chair in Emerging Technologies: Space in 2018. The ERC Advanced Grant is the latest in a series of space-related research projects which he has helped lead at the University of Glasgow, including the development of the Integrated Space and Exploration Technology Laboratory at the James Watt School of Engineering.

The SOLSPACE award is one of 185 ERC Advanced Grants announced today by the European Research Council, totalling a €450m investment in research. To date, the ERC has funded some 9,000 top researchers at various stages of their careers, and over 50,000 postdocs, PhD students and other staff working in their research teams. 

The President of the European Research Council (ERC), Professor Mauro Ferrari, said: “I am glad to announce a new round of ERC grants that will back cutting-edge, exploratory research, set to help Europe and the world to be better equipped for what the future may hold. That’s the role of blue sky research. These senior research stars will cut new ground in a broad range of fields, including the area of health. I wish them all the best in this endeavour and, at this time of crisis, let me pay tribute to the heroic and invaluable work of the scientific community as a whole.”

The ERC strives to attract top researchers from anywhere in the world to come to Europe. Key global research funding bodies, in the United States, China, Japan, Brazil and other countries, have concluded special agreements to provide their researchers with opportunities to temporarily join ERC grantees' teams.

The ERC is led by an independent governing body, the Scientific Council. The ERC President is Professor Mauro Ferrari. The overall ERC budget from 2014 to 2020 is more than €13 billion, as part of the Horizon 2020 programme, for which the European Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth, Mariya Gabriel is responsible.


First published: 31 March 2020

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