In the future solar panels in space will strive towards being both more effective and even smaller than what they are today. In this way more power can be generated from a lower mass of panels, this will mean that spacecrafts going on journeys very far from the sun where light is scares still can have a use of solar panels. This is because they will be effective enough to catch up the little light that there is.
Today satellites going beyond the point of Jupiter can only use radioisotope thermal generators (RTGs) to generate power. There is simply too little light for solar arrays to be effective. But as the solar cells get more effective the scientists hope that this will be a possibility in the future.
Less is more for solar panels in space
To make the solar panels in space lighter and smaller, thin-film photovoltaic cells could be used. One could also utilize composite support structures and flexible blanket substrates. New materials in the solar cells could further improve the efficiency of them.
Concentration- get more power using a simple magnifying glass
Another new method that is being tested is the use of a large lens to concentrate and intensify the sunlight onto the solar cells. It is the same principle as when one uses a magnifying glass to create a small fire on a bright summer day. If you would take a magnifying glass and put it over every small solar cell you could potentially use a lot less solar cells in the final solar array. This would be because with this approach there would be more light hitting each one of the cells. This method is called concentration and it works very well when there is just one light source which all the lenses can be pointed at. This scenario is exactly what happens with most solar panels in space because the sun will be the one and only light source and therefore concentration should be an ideal method up there.
Interstellar solar power plants a possible reality
A new Idea that is currently being researched by none other than the Japanese (this way you know it will be cool) is to create solar power plants outside the earth’s atmosphere. These would consist of a satellite with a huge amount of solar panels in space. The satellites would gather solar energy without the pesky interference of clouds or atmosphere which otherwise is a factor if the solar panels are located on the earths surface. After the energy is gathered the satellite would then beam it down to earth using either lasers or microwaves.
The awful thing about this is that the first that comes to my mind is that there would be lots of other things that could be done with a potentially super highly energetic laser or microwave beam. Like for instance: burning down small countries with surgical precision. Well I guess most things could be used for evil purposes if one wanted to. We will just have to trust in the goodness of Man to never do a evil thing like that
Anyhow there are huge hopes of these satellites gathering energy with their solar panels in space for the benefit of mankind. They are foretold too be a great part of the electrical power generation in the 21st century. And even better is that the electricity will be a green power source for the profit of the environment.
Dont forget to read our previus article in our solar panels in space theme: Kickass solar array on mars rover brakes the world record