Saudi Arabia helps with UK plan to beam down endless energy from space

GMB: Liz Truss grilled on ‘double standard’ with Saudi Arabia

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Saudia Arabia is set to pour cash into a UK project that will see a power station in space wirelessly beam down limitless clean energy to Earth. Business Secretary Grant Shapps met with the Kingdom’s communications minister, Abdullah al-Swaha, last week to discuss how the Gulf state can provide a cash injection to the space-based solar power (SBSP) project. According to a report by The Times, Saudi Arabia’s £409billion Neom development, has already funnelled some of the millions raised by Space Solar, a British firm, into the project.

Talks of an SBSP, which would involve a fully renewable baseload energy technology, have been given a renewed sense of urgency over the last year after the UK’s vulnerability to volatile fossil fuel markets was laid bare by Russia’s war in Ukraine, which sent prices soaring and household bills rising.

A host of projects are reportedly set on this space power goal and Government has reacted eagerly too. For instance, the Space Energy Initiative aims to deliver 30gigawatts (GW) of continuous clean power from the cosmos by the mid-2040s.

The “exciting potential to provide sustainable energy, helping meet the government’s net-zero target and provide energy security”, Dr Mamatha Maheshwarappa, Payload Systems Lead at the UK Space Agency, has previously said.

The power station will be made up of satellites with lightweight solar panels and a system of mirrors to concentrate sunlight onto the panels, generating around 3.4 GW of electricity on the satellite. One project, Space Solar, has been looking to the Middle East as it seeks funding to get it its own project off the ground. Sam Adlen, joint chief executive of Space Solar, has argued that interest from Saudi Arabia, which produces a tenth of the world’s oil, is a significant step.

He said: “There’s a real partnership to be developed that can have a huge impact on the future of net zero, energy security and really help create an era-defining, new energy source.”

A Government source said Mr Shapps’s meeting had involved authorities at Neom, a project which involves a plan to build a green desert city dubbed “The Line”, that will run on purely clean electricity.

Satellite images have indicated construction of the futuristic city is already underway. According to the Mr Alden, the space-based power station array could redirect energy from the UK to The Line when needed. However, the 200 metre-wide, 170 kilometre-long city, which could have a high-speed rail for residents offering end-to-end transit in just 20 minutes, is not without its challenges.

Both technologically and financially, the project has to ensure that advanced technologies in the urban design setting will attract the attention of future residents and investors alike.

Despite this, Mr Adlen’s company has raised £3.5million thanks to the help of funding from Neom and research and development (R+D) cash from the Government.

Space Solar has a 12-year plan worth £9.8billion plan, It will begin with a trial project in the cosmos that could begin in as little as six years. The initial phase will beam down just six megawatts — from low Earth orbit, but that would be followed by a 180MW scheme from a higher orbit. Later, a 2000MW version in geostationary orbit within 12 years could come into effect.

A site has not yet been chosen for the ground receiver, but the area needed means the North Sea is being seriously considered as an option for Britain. In Saudi Arabia, a ground receiver may be built on land.

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According to a report published by the engineering consultancy Frazer-Nash last year estimated the first space-based solar power station could cost around £16billion, with each additional satellite costing an extra £5billion. It found that each satellite is expected to provide power at £50 per megawatt hour.

Martin Soltau, a Space Business Partner at the Frazer-Nash Consultancy, and also a Co-Chair Space Energy Initiative, told in March last year: “Energy security is ever more important, and we will look to work with our natural partners to raise funding, develop the international regulations and standards, and develop technology.

“Once in operation, the high yield, low cost of electricity and its favourable characteristics providing both baseload and flexible generation, will make SBSP a highly profitable revenue source for the operating companies, and offering the potential of a healthy return to investors, including the Government.”

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