The Chinese government is looking into the possibility of building a solar farm in space to lower carbon emissions and bridge future energy shortfalls.

Researchers at Chongqing University, the China Academy of Space Technology’s Xian branch and Xidian University have started building a test facility in Chongqing’s Bishan district at a cost of around $15bn.

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The initial construction of the base will take two years. Once built, researchers will launch tethered balloons equipped with solar panels to an altitude of 1,000m. These will collect sunlight and convert it from solar energy to microwaves to be sent back to Earth and sold to the grid. If this succeeds, the researchers will launch balloons into the stratosphere to conduct further tests.

The eventual result could be solarpower station that would orbit the Earth at a distance of 36,000km. The station would not be impeded by the atmosphere or cloud cover and could deliver power with six times the intensity of solar farms on Earth. The space solarpower station could be available by 2040.

This news has been welcomed by the United Nations (UN) Environment Programme, which noted that of the 98GW of solarpower installed throughout the world in 2017, 53GW was installed in China.

UN Environment climate change expert Niklas Hagelberg said: “While the ambition and pace to decarbonise our economies need to increase fivefold, we are seeing unprecedented progress and incredible innovation to decarbonise human life on Earth.”

The UN also noted that China is not the only country looking to create a solar farm in space. Scientists at the California Institute of Technology have also been building a prototype lightweight solar panel, which can harness and transmit solar energy from space.