Researchers from the University of Glasgow said Monday that sun reflectors placed in space could help produce energy for solar farms at dawn and dusk. File Photo by Stephen Shaver/UPI | License Photo
Feb. 5 (UPI) -- A new study out of the University of Glasgow said that large-scale sunlight reflectors placed in space to help solar farms gain additional energy at dawn and dusk could give solar energy a boost around the world.
The research, which was published Monday as a preprint in the science journal Acta Astronautica, found that orbiting reflector scans help solar farms gain additional energy from the sun before the sun rises and after it sets. That kind of boost could accelerate the planet's transition to net-zero carbon use and away from fossil fuels.
The researchers said their models show that 20 gossamer-thin reflectors orbiting about 620 miles from the Earth's surface could generate additional sunlight for an extra two hours to solar farms on average each day.
They said the extra sunlight, especially at sunset when there is a high power demand, could be a tremendous benefit. The researchers said such a project could even be scaled up with more space reflectors.
The researchers said such configurations, called Walker constellations, are already used with communication satellites, which means the theory has already been tested as effective. They said it would not require any additional infrastructure on the ground.
"The price of solar panels has dropped quickly in recent years, increasing the pace of their adoption and paving the way for the creation of large-scale solar power farms around the world," said Onur Celik, the study's author at the University of Glasgow's James Watt School of Engineering.
"Putting orbiting solar reflectors in place around the Earth would help to maximize the effectiveness of solar farms in the years to come. Strategically placed new solar farms in locations which receive the most additional sunlight from reflectors could make them even more effective."
Colin McInnes, co-author of the study and the principal investigator of the University of Glasgow's SOLSPACE research project said the solar reflector idea is not new. Discussions first occurred as early as the 1920s among scientists and the former Russian Mir space station used a small reflector to bounce sunlight back to Earth.
"Tackling the challenge of climate change requires big ideas," McInnes said. "While this is undoubtedly a big idea, it builds on technologies that are already well-understood and computer models like ours show how they could be scaled up. The falling cost of launching payloads to space opens up entirely new possibilities for the future."