A momentous breakthrough has been made by Japanese scientists with far-reaching implications for the planet’s energy security and environmental protection. For the first time ever, solar energy of nearly 2 kilowatts electric power has been transmitted wirelessly as microwaves to a small target over a distance of 170 feet. The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) is racing to perfect this technology by the 2040s, which could open the door to tap the vast amount of solar energy available in space and use it on Earth. The idea is to send up microwave-transmitting solar satellites to geo-statiory orbits 36,000 kms above the Earth’s surface. The orbiting satellites will collect sunlight with giant panels and beam it down to Earth in microwave form. The JAXA plans to build its receiving station over a 3-km long artificial island in Tokyo bay. At least 5 billion antens will be packed into this island, working together to convert the microwave energy into electricity. Eventually though, Japanese scientists plan to set up a gigantic solar farm at the moon itself, girdling its equator with a huge ring of solar panels. It is estimated that this lur belt can provide an ‘almost inexhaustible’ 13,000 terrawatts of continuous solar energy. To put matters into perspective, the entire Earth’s population is presently consuming around 15 terawatts of power each year.
With its nuclear power programme coming to a standstill in the aftermath of the Fukushima disaster in 2011, Japan is now forced to import huge amounts of fossil fuel. This explains the country’s anxiety to develop altertive energies. Solar power generation in space is expected to be a commercially viable proposition, with the sun’s energy permanently available, regardless of weather or time of day. Once such technologies are in place, fossil fuels will become redundant. This can help to reverse global warming, caused due to carbon dioxide emitted in burning fossil fuels — our most important source of energy at present. This year too, cutting carbon emission and preventing drastic climate change will figure in another round of talks, to be held in December at Paris. Things are at last moving on the ground with the US and Chi, responsible for nearly 40 per cent of all emissions, agreeing to limit carbon emissions in a ground-breaking deal last November. Rich and poor countries are now beginning to talk about ‘doing something’ together. India too has made strong commitments to reduce emissions, targeting to raise generation of solar energy to 1,00,000 MW by 2022. There is now a greater intertiol urgency over altertive energy, low-carbon technology, climate-protection infrastructure and bio-engineered climate-proof crops. This promises to open up another technological race which can only benefit mankind in the long run.
As countries like Japan take an early lead in the solar race, even basic solar technology at present is looking promising. Experts have pointed out that due to rising efficiency of photovoltaic systems and innovative ideas in using land for solar farms, the cost of solar energy has lately come down considerably. A team of scientists in Gujarat recently designed solar panels that can be stacked on top of one another, occupying much less space but harvesting more of the sun’s energy. With the Central government drawing up a list to develop 60 solar cities as part of its Green Initiative, cities like Chandigarh and Vijayawada are vying to tap solar power in a big way for their energy needs in the coming years. The Union budget this year has reduced tax rates on several important components used in solar power systems, including PV cells — which will bring down the overall installation cost. There is much discussion over installing latest design solar panels on roof-tops of all large government, commercial and residential buildings in polluting cities like Delhi. India’s hitherto weakness in building up a fully efficient electricity grid capable of meeting all its power demands, may yet prove to be a blessing in future if it leapfrogs into a decentralised solar energy structure. This can bear exciting prospects for the Northeast as well. After all, power-hungry NE states have long been uble to meet even all their household power demands, leave alone planning for the needs of a larger industrial base. The recent beginning of commercial generation in the Northeast’s biggest solar power plant at Morchak in western Tripura with a capacity of 5 MW, is therefore welcome news. It is for the NE state governments to push the idea of using solar power among the people, and to encourage public as well as private sector groups to market solar energy solutions in the region.