The UK government has announced £4.3m ($5.4m) in funding for the development of space-based solar.  

The funding will be used to develop solar panels to be deployed in space alongside wireless technology that will transmit the electricity they produce to Earth. 

Speaking at London Tech Week on 13 June, Grant Shapps, the UK’s Energy Security and Net Zero Secretary, announced the universities and tech companies that will receive a share of the funding. 

Space-based solar energy farms could deliver clean energy day and night, far more efficiently, and of course in all weathers,” Shapps told audiences. “Space-based solar could generate up to 10GW of electricity by 2050 […] it would be sufficient to power about three quarters of Britain’s homes,” he went on. 

Winning organisations include Queen Mary University of London, which is developing a wireless system to transmit clean energy to the Earth. The university will receive £960,000. The University of Cambridge will also receive more than £770,000 in funding for its ultra-lightweight solar panels, which are designed to cope with instances of high radiation. 

The funding is part of the UK Government’s £1bn Net Zero Innovation Portfolio (NZIP) for clean energy research.  

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“This NZIP grant gives us the opportunity to extend our work to explore how the latest microwave technology can be used to develop cost-effective solutions to deliver net zero using the abundant solar energy resources found in outer space,” said Professor Xiadong Chen of the Queen Mary University of London Antennas & Electromagnetics Research Laboratory. 

The “new space race” 

“With the climate clock ticking, innovation has never been so important,” Shapps said on Tuesday. “Half of the emissions reductions required to meet net zero by 2050 will have to come from technologies which are not yet commercially totally available. Or even partially.”

The announcement comes amid several recent developments in the space-based solar industry, which Shapps referred to in his speech. The California Institute of Technology has successfully transmitted solar power to Earth from space in a world first. Additionally, the University of Pennsylvania has developed new ultra-lightweight solar cells for use in space. 

in a statement, Shapps described the competition as a “new space race”. “We’re taking a giant leap by backing the development of this exciting technology and putting the UK at the forefront of this rapidly emerging industry as it prepares for launch,” he said.