On 20th July 2022, the UK Government announced £3 million funding to support pioneering new space technologies. The funding is to be made available for space-based solar power (SBSP) projects that collect the Sun’s energy using solar panels orbiting the Earth and can deliver clean energy with no weather interruptions. In theory, far greater amounts of energy can be captured using this method than ground-based solar. The report, “Space based solar power: de-risking the pathway to net zero”, published by the UK Government in on 27 September 2021 (the Report), envisaged solar satellites on kilometre-scale capable of generating 3 Gigawatts (GW) per satellite.
The funding announcement follows the Report that concluded SBSP is technically feasible, affordable - though requiring very high initial investment - and could bring significant benefits to the UK economy while noting that the technology is in its infancy. Our analysis of the Report is available here.
The £3 million of grant funding is the first government investment announced in this technology type which the UK Government believes has the potential to boost energy security by providing a reliable, affordable alternative to expensive and volatile fossil fuels. With the technology’s ability to operate unaffected by the weather this would, if successful, contribute towards the UK’s goal of reaching net zero by 2050 by further diversifying the country’s renewable energy production. Of the £3 million, £600,000 has been awarded to RAL Space, the UK’s national space laboratory. RAL will work with Spire Global to prepare Hyperspectral Microwave Sounder (HYMS) for deployment and work will be carried out in Oxfordshire and in Glasgow. HYMS weather tracking may also play a key role in the deployment of renewables as the ability to track fast moving weather events will aid predictions of energy generators which will prove useful given the variability of renewable sources.
Further commitment to the sector
In addition to announcing funding the UK Government also announced appointment of David Morris MP as the first National Space Champion. The new role is intended to aid the sector’s continual growth and development of innovative products and to attract investment in the UK Space Sector. Commenting on the appointment and funding Business and Energy Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said “Space-based solar power could provide an affordable, clean and reliable source of energy for the whole world to benefit from, helping the move away from expensive fossil fuels. Today’s investment is an exciting example of how we can go even further in our ambitions to make the UK a science superpower.”
Dr Paul Bate, Chief Executive of the UK Space Agency, said: “Satellite technology is helping us solve some of the most significant challenges we face. We’re working with the space sector to drive innovation, catalyse investment and bring tangible benefits to people and businesses across the UK.” Adding that “As these 2 new projects show, space is not only vital in helping us monitor the weather and our environment, it can also provide new solutions to our future energy needs and support the global fight against climate change.”
The funding and appointment of the first National Space Champion is an important step towards two of the Report’s recommendations: that space-based power is integrated into government strategies for reaching net zero and carrying out further concept design studies. Further engagement with the energy market is needed to boost the sector going forward and in order to attract more private investment.
While the technology remains at a very early stage in development, the announcement of funding provides a new boost to the industry. Our previous article envisaged that gaining government support for an untested technology would be one of the main hurdles faced by the industry. The announcement of funding by BEIS is a vote of confidence and one which may encourage other developers and investors to engage with. SBSP has potential to make a significant contribution to the UK energy market with predictions that it could meet 15% of requirements by 2040 and so the development of this technology could play a role in the UK’s journey to net zero.
This article was co-authored by Euan Rose trainee solicitor at CMS.