Lilach Danewitz, Director of Strategy and Partnerships, NTT Israel

The next step in renewable energy: Electricity from space

"In a world grappling with increasing energy and environmental challenges and dwindling resources, there is a need to think outside the box and challenge the current perception of energy production," writes Lilach Danewitz

For years, renewable energy has been touted as a sustainable solution to the world's growing energy consumption. It aims to stop the use of polluting fuels and resources on one hand, and to use natural and inexhaustible sources on the other. Many countries around the world have adopted ambitious goals for massive adoption of renewable energy in the coming years. This need has grown even more in the past two years, as geopolitical tensions and wars have changed and continue to change the global energy map.
However, the growth rate of the renewable energy sector remains insufficient. In many countries, the use of renewable energy accounts for only a small percentage of the total electricity production, falling short of the targets set by these countries. This contrasts with increased investments in the field by those countries and international environmental organizations.
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לילך דנביץ' דירקטורית אסטרטגיה ושותפויות NTT ישראל
לילך דנביץ' דירקטורית אסטרטגיה ושותפויות NTT ישראל
Lilach Danewitz, Director of Strategy and Partnerships, NTT Israel
(Photo: PR)
The relatively slow progress, even with enormous investments, is due to the numerous challenges faced by renewable energy. Despite its image as an inexhaustible resource, renewable energy uses other, equally important resources, such as lands that are expropriated for renewable energy projects and the resulting impact on the environment and wildlife. These often lead to objections from authorities, residents, and environmental organizations, resulting in a process that is cumbersome, lengthy, and ironically, sometimes harmful to the environment.
Additionally, the efficiency of renewable energy systems is not optimal, to say the least. Solar panels only produce energy during the day and only when there are no clouds; wind turbines need "help" to operate optimally, and the use of water energy involves significant financial and environmental costs to increase its efficiency. Moreover, in most renewable energy technologies, electricity generation is not stable or constant, requiring additional solutions to stabilize the electricity grid, making renewable energy difficult to rely on.
Another challenge is the high entry barriers faced by investors, which have been decreasing in recent years but still prevent more significant growth. Considering all the aforementioned reasons and more, for a renewable energy project to be economically viable, it needs to operate over the long term, requiring a high initial investment before benefits can be reaped.
In recent years, researchers and scientists have been trying to overcome these challenges and look for new sources of renewable energy. It seems that the answer lies far beyond Earth's boundaries: in outer space. More precisely, space solar power systems (SSPS) can offer an innovative and promising solution for a greener and more sustainable future.
The SSPS concept is simple yet revolutionary – placing solar panels in space to allow continuous energy production, converting it to laser or microwave energy, and transmitting it to Earth to generate electricity.
Unlike regular solar panels affected by weather conditions and sunlight availability, using satellites in SSPS avoids Earth's shadow, exposing the solar panels to sunlight 24/7. The intensity of the sun's rays in space is also expected to provide ten times the energy produced on Earth.
Although it sounds like science fiction, this futuristic concept is being researched and developed by researchers and scientists worldwide, including NTT Space Environment and Energy Laboratories and NTT R&D, subsidiaries of the Japanese giant NTT.
The studies present pioneering technologies for all stages of the process, but there are still technological challenges that need to be overcome to turn this research into a working commercial system that generates energy in space and transmits it to Earth. Some of these challenges include finding safe and efficient methods for wireless transmission of energy over long distances, improving the efficiency of solar panels and adapting them to capture vast amounts of energy, and more.
SSPS systems are still far from commercial operation, but the innovative technologies being investigated and developed as part of it can benefit other areas in the shorter term. For example, wireless energy transmission via laser could provide electricity to isolated areas or disaster-stricken regions. These technologies can also significantly extend the flight time capabilities of drones and other aircraft.
Despite all these challenges, the development of new energy sources is critical to reducing the consumption of fossil fuels, which still dominate the global energy market. Energy from space is an excellent way to overcome the existing challenges in renewable energy systems and offer a new alternative that is truly inexhaustible. Who knows, maybe in a few years, we will be able to cool our homes with air conditioners powered by clean electricity from space.

Lilach Danewitz is the Director of Strategy and Partnerships at NTT Israel