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Bristol space-based solar power project receives £353k funding boost

Virtus Solis Space Based Solar Power ConceptVirtus Solis

Press release issued: 14 June 2023

A team from the University of Bristol will play a pivotal role in the UK’s bid to develop space-based solar power - technology which has the potential to significantly boost the country’s energy security.

This week the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero announced the successful bids in its Space-Based Solar Power Innovation competition, with the Government investing £3.3m grant funding (alongside £1m from the UK Space Agency) to drive forward innovation in the sector. This funding comes from the government’s £1 billion Net Zero Innovation Portfolio for low-carbon technologies and systems to decrease the costs of decarbonisation and enable the UK to end its contribution to climate change.

The Government says the technology – which is still in the early stages of development – could boost energy security, reduce the need for fossil fuels, and drive down household bills by providing solar energy all year round.

Antennas and electromagnetics experts from the University of Bristol and industry partner Virtus Solis have been awarded £353,000 to produce an open source model (LyceanEM) which can be used to test the capability of wirelessly transferring solar power from space.

Earlier this month, scientists at the California Institute of Technology claimed to have achieved a world-first by successfully transmitting solar power to Earth from space.

The University of Bristol project will provide further evidence on the performance, safety and reliability of space-based solar energy.

The project, which will receive support from the Satellite Applications Catapult, will focus on the development of open source scalable electromagnetics models, to enable the design, modelling, and operation of gigascale antenna arrays for space-based solar power, up to four times larger than the biggest ever previously built.

An independent study in 2021, found that space-based solar power could generate up to 10GW of electricity a year, a quarter of the UK’s power needs, by 2050. The Government claims this could create a multi-billion pound industry, with 143,000 jobs across the country.

The concept depends upon the use of gigascale antenna arrays capable of delivering over 2GW of power from space onto similar gigascale antenna arrays either at sea or on the ground.

Dr Timothy Pelham, academic principle investigator, explained: “The concept depends upon the use of gigascale antenna arrays capable of delivering over 2GW of power from space onto similar gigascale antenna arrays either at sea or on the ground.

“Due to the scale of the antenna arrays required there is currently no software capable of accurate performance predictions within a reasonable timescale.

“Our project, Scalable Open Electromagnetics for Solar Power (SCOPES) aims to develop LyceanEM, a tool for rapid virtual prototyping of conventional array designs and channel modelling.

“This will enable fast and accurate modelling of the power density of the planned transfer beams across tens of square kilometres, allowing for robust planning of the deployment of this technology in a safe and dependable way.”

John Bucknell, CEO of Virtus Solis commented: "The availability of a giga-array simulation tool is an important enabler for industry, academia and government to understand the implications of long distance power beaming.

"SCOPES will allow organizations of all sizes to model these forthcoming systems end-to-end, validate assumptions and test edge cases. 

"Virtus Solis as an industry partner will help to develop the interface standards and provide validation data sets such that the broader community can explore the potential of Space-Based Solar Power."

Further information

Further information

About Bristol's Communication Systems & Networks (CSN) Group:

The CSN Group is one of the largest Communications research groups in Europe, and is well-known for its pioneering work in antennas and propagation, 5G & beyond communications, connected & autonomous vehicles, and linearised power amplifiers. The Group performs fundamental cutting edge research, translates novel concepts into practical prototypes via large scale testbeds and trials, and applies ML and AI to practical realisations enhancing overall efficiency. 

Researchers in the CSN Group are members of the Smart Internet Lab. This initiative builds on Bristol's strategic research in communications and digital technologies to create a hub for internet research with long lasting benefits for society and the economy.

About Virtus Solis:

Virtus Solis is a next generation sustainable energy company developing the world's first space-based solar power energy generation system able to directly compete with conventional and renewable energy sources

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