Known for undertaking ambitious infrastructure projects such as the world’s largest hydro project, the Three Gorges Dam, China has now embarked on a mission to develop the first utility-scale solar project in space by 2040.
The country’s Academy of Technology is developing a space power plant that would orbit the Earth at a height of 22,370 miles and beam energy down to the grid.
Construction of an experimental version is already underway in Chongqing, Bishan district, with the prototype due to be completed by 2021, according to a report in China's Science and Technology Daily.
The Bishan district government is expected to make an initial investment of 100 million yuan ($15 million) in the project.
The test project would be used to assess the effectiveness of various technologies for transmitting the energy from space to earth, as well as their potential impact on people and animals.
The plan involves the launch of a vehicle that would ship the solar arrays and related technology into space, where the parts would be assembled and the project would enter geostationary orbit over a receiving station on the ground.
Energy would be transmitted to Earth in the form of a laser or microwaves before being converted back into electricity and fed into the grid.
The project is both technologically and financially challenging, but if it is successful, space-based solar panels could be as much as six times more efficient than those on earth and would also not be subject to nighttime and seasonal variation.
But, of course, the thoughts of some critics have already turned to worst-case scenarios. For instance, what if the satellite is commandeered by terrorists who could use the laser beam to lay waste to entire cities? Seems a bit dramatic.