The Actionable Futurist® Podcast

S4 Episode 3: Space-Based Solar Power live recording

February 20, 2022 The Actionable Futurist® Andrew Grill Season 4 Episode 3
The Actionable Futurist® Podcast
S4 Episode 3: Space-Based Solar Power live recording
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

This special episode of the podcast was recorded live in front of an audience in February 2022 at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers in London and features a panel of experts discussing a very interesting subject of Space-Based solar power.

I was joined on stage by

Martin Soltau Co-Chair Space Energy Initiative & Space Business Lead at Frazer-Nash Consultancy

Dr Alice Bunn CEO Institution of Mechanical Engineers

Sam Adlen Chief Strategy Officer, Satellite Applications Catapult and

Ali Stickings Space Strategy lead at Fraser Nash Consultancy

You will also hear remarks from Mark Garnier, MP for Wyre Forest who is Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Space, and Chair of The Space Energy Initiative Advisory Board as well as Nick Wayth Chief Executive at The Energy Institute.

To provide some context around this episode and the topic, we all accept that fossil fuels are not a sustainable form of energy, and renewable energy such as solar and wind have issues when it is cloudy or calm.

To meet the energy needs of a country like the UK or Australia, we need a “baseload” technology that can provide a sustained demand for power.

The UK chapter of The Institution of Engineers Australia teamed up with the Institution of Mechanical Engineers for their monthly “Spring Forward” hybrid lecture series to look at a potential new form of energy – Space-Based Solar Power.

The concept is not new – it was first mooted by Isaac Asimov as science fiction in the 1940s, and in 1968, Dr Peter Glaser of Arthur D. Little introduced the concept of using microwaves for power transmission from geosynchronous orbit to an Earth-based rectifying antenna.

Since then, technology has advanced on several fronts to remove some of the technological and economic barriers to practical full-scale implementation.

Issues covered in this episode include:

  • How Space-Based power actually works
  • The opportunity for generating power from space
  • How to overcome challenges in commercialising this technology
  • How space-based solar power contributes to the net-zero debate
  • The future for space-based solar power generation
  • How Space solar power gives Governments options
  • Solar power vs Nuclear Fusion
  • What will the solution cost?
  • The regulatory risks
  • The role of Government
  • The security concerns
  • Who regulates the space segment
  • The spin-off benefits
  • What other countries are doing?
  • The UK-Australia Space Bridge
  • The Space Energy Initiative
  • The job creation opportunities
  • Nick Wayth Chief Executive at Energy Institute comments
  • Audience question: How can the UK maintain a lead in this area?
  • Audience question: What is happening in Australia?
  • Audience question: What can go wrong?
  • Mark Garnier MP closing remarks

Resources
UK Government’s paper on Space-Based Solar Power

Your Host: Actionable Futurist® Andrew Grill
For more on Andrew - what he speaks about and replays of recent talks, please visit ActionableFuturist.com
follow @AndrewGrill on Twitter
or @andrew.grill on Instagram.

Intro:

Welcome to The Actionable Futurist Podcast a show all about the near term future with practical and actionable advice from a range of global experts to help you stay ahead of the curve. Every episode answers the question what's the future along with voices and opinions that need to be heard. Your host is international keynote speaker and The Actionable Futurist Andrew Grill.

Andrew Grill:

This special episode of the podcast was recorded live in front of an audience in February 2022 at the institution of mechanical engineers in London, and features a panel of experts discussing a very interesting subject that of space based solar power. I was joined on stage by Martin Soltau, co chair of the space energy initiative and space business leader at Fraser Nash consultancy, Dr. Alice been the CEO of the institution of mechanical engineers and our host for the evening, Sam Adlam. The Chief Strategy Officer satellite applications catapult and Le stickings space strategy lead at Frazer Nash consultancy. You'll also hear remarks from Mark ganja MP for y forest, who was chair of the old party parliamentary group for space and chair of the space energy initiative advisory board, as well as Nick wave chief executive at the Energy Institute to provide some context around this episode and the topic. We all accept that fossil fuels are not a sustainable form of energy, and renewable energy such as solar and wind have issues when it is cloudy or calm. To sustain the energy needs of a country like the UK or Australia. We need a baseload technology that can provide a sustained demand for power. This event was a joint initiative between the UK chapter of the institution of Engineers Australia and the institution of mechanical engineers. I hope you enjoy this episode. Well, thank you very much and good evening everyone. I'm Andrew grill the actionable futures I'll be your host and moderator for this evening. Tonight's subject is personally very interesting to me. As a former electronic engineer who dabbled with satellites while a British Aerospace and Optus in Australia, and a self confessed space geek. I know that the prospect of cutting edge solar power delivered from space is a game changing solution to the net zero agenda. The concept though is not new. It was first mooted by Isaac Asimov as a science fiction concept in the late 1940s. And in 1968, Dr. Peter Glazer of Arthur D. Little introduced the concept using microwave for power transmission from geosynchronous orbit to an earth based rectifying antenna or rectenna. Since then, technology has advanced on several fronts to remove some of the technological and economic barriers. I'm no expert on this. We have four experts in the room today. So to better understand this concept, I'd like to invite Martin to give us a five minute masterclass on space based solar power, man over to you.

Martin Soltau:

Thank you, Andrew. And I think it'll be more of a one on one than a masterclass. I'll very briefly talk about why we should be developing this ambitious technology, how it works, benefits, and the challenges for development programme. And this is really all about Net Zero. It's how we move from fossil fuels to a sustainable, clean energy future. And doing that without causing harm to our economy or energy poverty, particularly for for the developing nations. And affordable, abundant energy just really underpins our quality of life, engineers know that getting to net zero is going to be super difficult. And here in the UK, we have a lot of pathways, but we don't have a plan that adds up. And that's not a criticism of government. It's just a reality of how challenging this really is. So we urgently need to develop new and more capable technologies. If we're going to deliver netzero and space based solar park and offers some really exciting new options and uniquely it's it's both clean and highly capable. The sheer abundance of energy and spaces is really why space based solar has long been an attractive concept. Solar power satellite and a geostationary earth orbit can see the sun for almost 100% of the time. So it offers that continuous power through the year, through day or night and through all seasons. And in all weathers really the dramatic fall in the cost of space launch, coupled with really interesting advances in the the latest solar power satellite concepts. And advancing technology, particularly in robotics and other other technologies brought it to the point where it's now a viable commercial proposition. I'll spend a little bit of time just on an overview of how it works. The principal functions of the satellite are collecting the solar energy, converting it to RF and then transmitting that to a ground based receiver where it turned back from microwaves back into electricity instead into the grid, the retro directive control system. So this provides a high light beam, and allows for a coherent microwave beam to be established to get the high efficiency and the precise collimated beam and pointing accuracy. And also provides the secure columns for the satellite. So the overall efficiency from the DC that you generate on the satellite to the AC that goes into the grid, but 50% Five, zero, each satellite is providing two gigawatts into the grid. So they'd like a nuclear power station. And for Britain, in 2050, we might have 15 of these providing 30 gigawatts or 260 terawatt hours. So that's about 30% of our forecast, electricity demand in 2050, which is going to be over three times what it is today, because everything's going to be electrified, the satellites are very large, it's a very lightweight sparse structure. Another really important point is that they're totally different from any other satellite. They're, they're highly modular. So they're made modules maybe no larger than your dust, desktop PC, each with a functionality to collect, convert, transmit the energy. So these things are assembled in space by robots. It's like a Lego puzzle rather than building the International Space Station with astronauts. And because they are designed for reasons of robotic assembly from the outset, it offers that resilience and that capability. And it also the hyper modularity is a key element of the low cost. And they also need a high power to mass ratio, again, minimum mass, because a lot of the cost is tied up in the cost of space launch, you've got to solve the many technical challenges with a very elegant engineering solutions. That gives you sort of clue to some of the key elements. It is an ambitious concept, there are many challenges, but the underlying physics is very well understood. We don't need any breakthroughs in materials, or component performance. It's not in the same league as nuclear fusion, the challenge is really derived much more from the scale of the system as a big engineering integration. Now, this is the graph that has got the government very excited. So this is showing the levelized cost of electricity, which is how all energy technologies are kind of measured. It's a slightly clunky measure, because it doesn't take into account other characteristics. But you've got the baseload down the bottom there, the capable nuclear and gas with carbon capture. And then you've got the intermittent technologies, which are cheaper on their own, but but actually, they impose a cost on the grid. And then space solar power at the top, which is both capable, continuous baseload, and it's dispatchable. And it's potentially the cheapest. So this could really be a game changer. So I hope that sets the scene. And thank you very much indeed.

Andrew Grill:

There will be questions afterwards, I hope you're taking notice there. So Mark, a lot to unpack there. You've explained what you know why it is and some of the reasons to why it's an opportunity in the future. But I want to ask, first of all, why temp this so many years out, it's so expensive. Why do we bother with this when they're years away when we have renewable energy here today? So what is the compelling reason to even be talking about this right now,

Martin Soltau:

netzero is really difficult. If you look at the pathways where we're planning to build nearly 100 gigawatts of wind, offshore wind, we still have to use gas. But with carbon capture and storage, none of these things exist yet carbon capture and storage is really challenging. We have to pursue all these things. But all of the pathways involve a lot of engineering development for systems that simply don't exist yet. And so in the face of that uncertainty, governments need options. And what space solar power offers is a new option to help us get to net zero with a much greater chance of success.

Andrew Grill:

So Allie, I'll bring you in here, we talk a lot about net zero, there was called 27. Net Zero seems to be in the news all the time. There's talk about walking back from the 2050 commitment, because it's just too hard. So will we have to get to that net zero nirvana? And will this help?

Ali Stickings:

I think we can. Whether we will, is, you know, there are a lot of factors that will lead to that there's political factors and security factors and financial factors. But I think we have to believe that we can, if we don't believe that we're actually going to reach that, you know, what, guess what's the point of trying any of this, but it is going to take a huge amount of, you know, support politically from from industry, from investment from the public as well. Everyone has to get on board, not just in the UK. But internationally.

Andrew Grill:

The Alice energy prices are front page news. Now there's talk about variable tariffs, which is really just surge pricing. There's Uber for home, I'm guessing, but there was an announcement yesterday about the fusion you you jumped on that. Why are you waiting for this when fusion is already there?

Alice Bunn:

Oh, that's controversial. And I think Martin already said it. I think what we're talking about here is, you know, the holy grail for affordable and green energy. And we have to look to the future in that. So I don't think fusion is going to solve today's problems. And it may or may not solve tomorrow's problems. But I do think there is space for a number of different forms of energy provision to make sure that we can have a sustainable source in the future. So there's a great debate there. We've got Nick wave from the Energy Institute here with us tonight. So no doubt, we'll come back to that. And the questions later.

Andrew Grill:

Now, Sam, you and Martin were behind report went to government about the feasibility of this? What's it going to cost? And will it ever pay back

Sam Alden:

in that report, the sort of first of a kind system to develop this sort of two gigawatt solution to a nuclear power station, that's about 16 billion pounds, but that's for the first system. And following that every other system is going to be somewhere between three or 4 billion. And to put that in context, that's roughly a quarter of the cost of a recumbent nuclear power station. So the kind of economics of it quite compelling. It's, it's really a very interesting financing conundrum. Because actually, when you're financing any big initiative, or any big business, you've got market risk, technical risk, execution risk, actually, in this case, it's a big amount of money. But the market risk is almost negligible. I mean, the modelling that's been done by government shows that the grid is just going to suck up as much of this electricity that it can provide. So it's a very interesting financing. financing problem, Martin's touched on the fundamentals fundamental core to the cost of nuclear power station levelized cost of electricity as good or better than intermittent renewables that makes it eminently financial. And so to answer your question, and in terms of Will it ever pay back? Well, the modelling we've done which sees us launching many of these, actually, once you're up and running and then in status quo, each satellite is model to run for 20 years plus after year 12. It's pure profit. So you systems will definitely pay back.

Andrew Grill:

You're right about the energy requirements being sucked up if people keep Mining cryptocurrency, we will they run out of energy forever, man talked his introduction about the logistics of getting the energy back down to earth and deleting these these antennas 13 by seven kilometres, that's a large antenna, where we put them and he's gonna give us the land for that.

Ali Stickings:

And that's certainly a conundrum I think we see with with other energy types. So we talk about wind farms or solar farms, fracking any any big infrastructure project, there are always the people that don't want them nearby, there's questions about about land use, particularly in a country like the UK where land is, is not as available, as you see in some other countries. So those are definitely you know, considerations. So there has to be a lot of public goodwill, around that. Certainly very important decisions to be made about where are they feasible and sustainable, you know, place to actually put these

Sam Alden:

probably worth emphasising, though, that compared to some of the other comparable sushi is actually the land area that's actually required is much less. So it's about a third of equivalent for terrestrial solar, and an even less for terrestrial wind. So there's, there's some quite compelling features from my perspective as well.

Andrew Grill:

So Alice, we a couple of weeks ago, were riffing about this event. And you said that the two things have collided your previous role in space agency, and now in mechanical engineering, but what are the regulatory risks? What do we have to get through all the red tape to actually even consider this and have people start investing in this opportunity?

Alice Bunn:

Yeah, good question. So my, anyone who knows me knows that my first law of space is always spectrum. It doesn't matter what you think it is, it doesn't matter if you think it's technical or cost, it's always spectrum. And I think, you know, space based solar power doesn't disappoint there. There's a few things to get over. So there is an item on the ITU on wireless power transmission, Martin mentioned it, which is the global body that regulates the use of spectrum. But that was really full seen for things like electric cars. There is the issue of compatibility with things like other satellites and aircraft flying through the beam, although I am reliably informed. It's not a death ray. I didn't ask if it was a death ray, I was just offered that it wasn't a death ray. So that's good. And then there's also the atmospheric effects, like we don't really know what kind of scattering effects might have when going through the atmosphere. But these are these are things we need to understand about the spectrum. I wouldn't say there are risks. As anyone who works in the space sector will tell you that the spectrum is increasingly contested, and there are always challenges around allocation and sharing of spectrum. So it's something that we need to understand a little bit more about, you know, then you go on to wider regulatory issues such as their kind of standards and protocols and all those things that will need to be developed demand in orbit servicing in orbit assembly, but that's already happening.

Andrew Grill:

We hear more and more about these satellites, these low Earth orbit micro satellites, we've got one wave, we've got Kaipa, we've got Starlink, all these different bits of junk up in there. We're now putting an even larger satellite up there. So back to the regulatory question, maybe le bring you in here, who owns the highways, because you've got all these things spinning around at different levels, who actually agrees what levels they're at. So don't crash into each other.

Ali Stickings:

I mean, there are some processes you have to go through in terms of getting an orbital slot and deciding where things go. But people often do talk about spaces a little bit like the Wild West. I don't think it's quite quite as an on Lord. But there are a lot of concerns that you mentioned about more and more satellites going up, their space is becoming more congested. And I know we're going to come on to it. But the questions about the sustainability of orbit, particularly putting very large satellites up there, and the concerns that other space users are going to have about more and more incredibly large satellites, taking up some of those what are actually very critical orbits

Andrew Grill:

analysis a second layer of space. Yeah, no, I

Alice Bunn:

just think, on this issue, because I do like talking about this issue quite a lot. I think the single most important thing that we can do is open up SST data space surveillance and tracking data. For decades, it's been locked down largely by the US military. And that means it's very, very difficult for commercial operators, in particular, to make the best use of that space up there. There's a fantastic analogy with what happened with Earth observation data about 20 years ago, because that was equally locked down largely by US intelligence agencies that didn't want it to be used for any, you know, naughty surveillance, I think, then common sense prevailed. And eventually that opened up and now we see all manner of public good applications coming from opening up that environmental data. And I think inevitably, the same thing will happen with SST, but we're not there yet. Well, the very

Andrew Grill:

fact you could never go here tonight was because the GPS system years ago, was Bill Clinton, who said we're going to unscramble it so that consumers can start using this and there's space for good initiative there. So maybe with that, in hindsight, we'll actually open that up and people can can use it, Sam, we constantly criticising these billionaires for flying in space. But I understand for each satellite, you've got to have 68 rocket launchers. So as an environmental energy project, is it environmentally sustainable?

Sam Alden:

Absolutely. It this is all about net zero for all projects these days, not just this one. The through life, environmental costs are absolutely critical to be able to, to make the case and the way we've been approaching space based solar power has been it's had this at the heart of it right right from the beginning. So yes, 68 starship monsters, but I think I think that needs putting in some context, the starships are a bit bigger, the sort of analogy I was always told for, for sort of set for space launches, that's somewhat equivalent to a long haul flight, there's 14 million of those a year, or they were pre COVID, there's some way to go, there's lots to understand. And clearly the pollutants are dispersed at different levels of the atmosphere and things like that, in the space sector, like any sector, is looking to get cleaner and has environmental sustainability at its heart, the statistics around space based solar power in this area are incredibly compelling as well. So the energy payback period for the system, Martin's described is a matter of weeks, and the carbon payback is around six months. So actually, those things are absolutely key. But again, they really do stack up for for this system as a whole.

Andrew Grill:

So Allison preparing for this talk. I was reading the you case space strategy that was published late last year, they mentioned energy as one of the areas but it isn't focused on. So what's the role of government here to literally get this off the ground?

Alice Bunn:

There is a very, very big role of government, I think, to get this off the ground. And we've talked about some of the regulatory issues. And we've talked about the importance of you know, the international cooperation, particularly in that piece. There is of course, a question around finance, I mean, let's just call it out, there is going to need to be some significant investment. And I think, you know, this is a classic high risk, high reward type situation. I don't think I'm talking out of class. If I say historically, we haven't been brilliant at that we haven't really lent in very hard, but we have done recently, actually. And there's a really, really interesting debate that has come out of that. And what am I talking about? I'm talking about the UK approach to development of vaccines. That was a very high risk approach that was taken, there was a huge amount of investment not only in the scientific understanding, but in the full chain of, you know, production capability and infrastructure that you need to roll that out. And hey, guess what, you know, it paid off, and I think is a really interesting debate now happening particularly with the newly established unit for Science and Technology Policy and number 10, about exactly where we should be on that kind of risk and reward appetite. So there will be a role for government. That said, I wouldn't for a moment expect the government's doing the lion's share of the investment here. Look at the energy provision generally, I think that has to have private investment. Where would you go for that? Well, There's quite a few billionaires knocking around who made their money from oil and gas and they were awash with green gilt probably start there. But it's interesting to reflect that government was able to take the approach it did, because we were in a global pandemic, we were in an emergency, you know, will we get to a point where we consider we are in a climate emergency. And we need a new approach. Some people even argue we're there already. So it's an interesting debate playing and also have a view on on the government involvement?

Sam Alden:

The first thing I'd say is actually, government been brilliant. They really have it's been fantastic. Watching the government machine in action. In this case, they're very much members of the space energy initiative, helping to drive it. So now Alice has touched on the ways that government can support which are myriad, probably the biggest barrier does end up as finance, that doesn't mean government has to finance the whole thing. But Crikey. If government can show that support, come behind this, then actually private finance will come into play. So where we are now is the sort of first phase of this programme to get the first two gigawatts in space requires about 300 million that's not going to come from government, but government can play a very big role in bringing international investment, private investment towards that.

Andrew Grill:

So what's required now, Martin and Sam, the report that you put together, and if you haven't read it, it really is a very succinct way of putting the case forward. What's the very next step that someone needs to take to go from a discussion tonight and your white paper to actually starting to fly birds in the air,

Martin Soltau:

we've got a plan as the space energy initiative to attract the initial funding as says of 300 million. We're setting up a company a legal entity, probably based around Harwell, we've got 46 members and a water supply chain already very supportive with all the sort of capabilities that we're going to need. And we've got a deliverable investable plan. So it's a very real tangible thing, which we hope will be realised in the next six months or so.

Andrew Grill:

Well, that's exciting. You heard it here first. Alice touched on it. It's not a death ray. But there are some security issues, I'm sure, because if you've got something flying out there that is an asset that can be blocked or tampered with. That's certainly an issue a company first, Allison, I might bring in Ellie, what are the concerns security concerns that you're most worried about?

Alice Bunn:

Frankly, I don't think the security concerns are high. I mean, some of the things that you will need to develop some of the capability you will need to develop, we've talked about already, you know, the inorbit, servicing the anymore bit manufacturing the inorbit XL assembly, and also have, you know, military applications, in a sense, though, we have for so many years got used to talking about civil and military capability is two very distinct things. It's a distinction that doesn't make sense anymore, everything is dual use, we just need to get our heads around that and then find a sensible way to regulate it.

Andrew Grill:

My old employer Optus back in Australia now fly joints, civilian military satellites. And so that's well known.

Martin Soltau:

I think another thing is, is the standards. So from a market perspective, these things are going to fit into the energy market. And we need standards so that I can buy energy as a rectenna operator from an American satellite one day, and then actually, the price is going up too much. So I'm going to buy it from my British satellite in half an hour's time. And so that interoperability for the market as well as for, as you're saying civil aviation and other satellites, I think is going to be key.

Andrew Grill:

So early, what's your view on security,

Ali Stickings:

Alice touched on things like space situational awareness, and that is becoming more open and more shareable. And that's very important. And these norms of behaviour that have been developed at the moment, the UK is actually been leading an initiative through the United Nations on developing norms of responsible behaviour and space around things like close approach and rendezvous robotic assembly, and all those door use concerns. If you can fix a satellite, you can break a satellite project on this scale, if there's good involvement with that community that there's a space sustainability community can actually help to move some of those conversations along. For me, I suppose the big question is actually being able to see this project within the context of the international politics of the space environment. It is a strategic environment, it is incredibly important for national international security, for military operations for all of our, our daily lives. And so just being able to understand how that environment is evolving, what the different power balances and struggles and new actors, the role of the commercial sector, and some of the capabilities that are being developed that can interfere with space assets is important. And it's just being aware of that throughout the lifecycle of it to ensure that the conversations are being hard. Everyone knows what what it's doing. You know, one of the biggest problems we have in space is it's hard to know what is actually happening. And so probably, you know, difficulties around things like attribution and proving intent are very difficult. So the more open it can be, the fewer problems that will arise. In terms of a data security situation.

Andrew Grill:

You might be talking about some tests that some other countries did, where they tried to explode some of their space vehicles and see what might happen which was probably the wrong thing to do. For those of you who are not space geeks, though. To me, who owns the space segment? So if you're in Antarctica, there are various countries that have claimed Antarctic Territory, Australia is one of them. But in space, if you're pointing or being down to a certain country when you're flying around a geosynchronous orbit, or even low earth orbit, who controls that it? Is it still a bit of the wild west out there? Or is it the ITU or who has the authority that we need to go to?

Ali Stickings:

This is something that that you know, a lot of people are trying to develop, it kind of comes on from the idea of space, situational awareness, and something called Space traffic management. And and it's the attempts to sort of develop a mechanism for actually having that that real regulation of how everything's happening in space. But again, a lot of these regulations are they are being developed at the same time, this has been developed and said that that sort of conversation is incredibly important.

Andrew Grill:

Alice then Sam

Alice Bunn:

Yeah. And I think what's really interesting, so, fully Reman, I think what's interesting, though, is in the absence of countries and governments being able to get together and set some real clear frameworks and establishing norms, you know, what is a hostile act? What is, you know, how do you attribute this behaviour, and, frankly, you know, an appetite to use this place environ properly, what we're seeing instead is interesting stuff. And they're saying, you know, what, we want to then create a framework where we can use this space more effectively, and why it's because space is an ever increasing part of our everyday lives. It's not just a military domain. It's fundamentally underpinning all of our lives. So you can see some industry initiatives, I'm thinking about the space sustainability ratings, it's initiative that's come out of the World Economic Forum, where you're seeing industry voluntarily sign up, sign up to codes of behaviour, norms of behaviour, because they recognise that if we can all share that space, then everyone benefits.

Sam Alden:

And so well, I think that's to my question very, very, very nicely, because I was going to ask you, Alice and Allie, what your perspectives on regulation were, because my experience in observing other sectors, but my direct experience of spaces that the regulators are actually very, very good, but nothing tends to happen until it's forced. In this case, do you think developing space based solar power actually might be an incredible way to actually develop the norms that the policies the regulations that the new space sector is really going to need?

Andrew Grill:

Well, I think also the essence spin off benefits, those that have followed the space race, the fact that we can have devices like this is because we had to miniaturise things to get them into space, as transistors were developed with integrated circuits. If I have to trip over another extension cord across a footpath for someone charging the electric vehicle, we have to solve that challenge. So maybe question for you, Martin. At the moment, we have to plug a vehicle into a lamppost, but I can charge my iPhone wirelessly. So if we can send power 36,000 kilometres down, there are this and spin off benefits that maybe wireless charging might become more ubiquitous?

Martin Soltau:

Absolutely, I think there's a whole range of spin off benefits from this sort of technology that's going to be developed. And already, we're talking to companies who are super keen to invest, understand get the capability to do wireless power transmission for terrestrial applications, then there are other really exciting has been also developing the capability to assemble these large structures in a hostile environment has so many applications.

Andrew Grill:

So just talk me through that you covered a bit in your introduction, but these will actually be flown into low earth or medium Earth orbit, robots will assemble and then they'll be using the energy that they're collecting then be sent up into higher orbit. And it's explained how that happens at fascinating.

Martin Soltau:

These things are very modular. So you're essentially taking a bag of Lego bricks, putting them up into medium Earth orbit, probably above the internet phenomenon belt where you assemble them. And it's it's not some sort of complicated task, don't think, Mars rover, it's a very simple self assembly thing, think ants and termite mounds. Tiny little ants can build a huge structure. And they don't need very sophisticated processes to work out what to do. That's the sort of concept and then you can raise this completed assembly up into its operational orbit.

Andrew Grill:

So we have an international audience here, not just in the room, but also online and a lot of here are Australian. So what are other countries like Australia doing? It can't just be the UK that are looking at this, what's happening around the world.

Martin Soltau:

Currently, those are three countries who have fairly significant national programmes. The Americans have got a military led programme, looking at wireless power beaming aspects of it and they've got something little experiment flying on the x 37. The Japanese probably the leaders in wireless power transmission, they've actually done some space experiments to see what the interaction with the atmosphere is. Over a few years and they've done some, you know, beaming sort of kilowatts of power with this retro directive control to large drones and things and the Chinese have got a declared national programme as well and they're my all time favourite to to get there first just because they they Go and do it. They don't need elections or asking government for permission and things. Those are the countries that are most active. And then countries like Australia and Canada have got interest at ministerial level, not normal programmes at the moment, the UK has got some really interesting advantages. I mentioned those the importance of having a concept, which has solves the challenges in a very elegant way to get the economics right. And we've got a really well beating concept, thanks to one of the SEI members who's got a patent on this. And I think we're doing it very differently as well. We've got this joined up alliances between industry and the research sector and government, which I don't think any other country has. And I think that that bodes really well for us.

Andrew Grill:

So Ellie, the UK, Australia space bridge that was announced last year, you spend your time looking at policy, where will this help both industries develop this initiative,

Ali Stickings:

anything of this magnitude is going to require international cooperation. So actually, being able to build on existing agreements is definitely going to be something that will help you can, you know, get over some barriers, there's already plans in place that there's good linkages between, you know, the industry and the government. And I think countries with similar outlooks and similar, you know, worldviews coming together to solve a problem such as this. So I think something like the Space Bridge could be really, really beneficial to this.

Andrew Grill:

Now, Alice, I couldn't let go by we're in this wonderful hall. It's your 170/5 birthday this year, not your personally but the institution, as existing logo behind you, you have four global policy focus areas in your here, climate change, and infection control, future skills, and future transport. So we're to space based solar power and into all of this.

Alice Bunn:

Right now, I'm going to make the pitch for all four, let's see if I can see this. So climate sustainability, you know, tick, it's what it says in the box, education and skills. It is a truism to say that space, you know, inspires the uptake of STEM subjects in children. So I think there's a bit of a tick in the box there. Future transport, I'm going to pivot to the challenge that we've got around launch and making launch greener and more affordable. And indeed, you know, we've got activity there. Infectious disease. Now, I did pause here for a while. How am I going to do this one, I'm going to do this one. I think it's there. One thing that we haven't talked very much about the wider tech transfer opportunities here, because if you think that this might be the technology that pushes or regulation pushes our capability in orbit assembly, then it's not a massive leap to think about in orbit manufacturing. So currently, we do do experiments, we do do things in, in the orbit environment, I had one of my own research experiments flown in space, back 20 years ago, but we only do research, right, so we understand more, we find out interesting things, usually in material science about how things operate. But if we can pivot not only from just research and understanding into manufacturing in the space environment, then that's a massive opportunity. Now, some of that has been realised already. So we're having production of fibre optic has incredibly low loss. And there is a company now producing fibre optics in space, the economics of that what is its face? Pharmaceuticals, I told you, you had to bear with me, Pharmaceuticals is another really exciting research area, the pharmaceutical industry, the pharmaceutical research community is able to develop some incredible drugs in a zero gravity environment. If we could get to a point where we're manufacturing that in a way that economically makes sense, then we can get a handle on infectious disease,

Andrew Grill:

or for how about that? Man, let's see your pitch for the space energy initiative. I want to know more about it.

Martin Soltau:

Okay, so we set up the space energy initiative maybe a year ago now, Sam, and it was really for, for three reasons. We needed to join up the space in the energy sector, they have no need to talk to each other that let alone understand each other. And that was super important. And then we needed to bring government and industry and academia together as well. And finally, there is no kind of natural prime for space based solar power. So this is filling a vacuum There we are. Currently we have 46 members from Airbus and Tallis, National Grid, leading universities, Cambridge, Southampton, sorry, and Imperial College and so forth, and the government very excitingly, so government have fully embedded bays di t, the UK space agency, everyone's working pro bono with the support of their companies. We've got seven just about to be eight working groups looking to develop an integrated plan across everything from the environmental aspects, the technical plan, comms finance, industry and supply chain. Importantly, this is going to be delivering a capability in a programme. We're not just a campaign, the organisation we're hoping to secure funding in the quite near future and start a legal entity and And I really hope everyone is going to come along for the for the ride because we knew all the talents.

Andrew Grill:

So Sam talked about job creation, one thing that gets politicians excited is knowing that there are more more jobs, space and energy have always been two separate industries. So with a project like this create a new sector and a new industry.

Sam Alden:

Absolutely. It's been a fun journey. So far, I think the UK is less siloed than than some countries, but getting the space sector in the energy sector, both industry and then government to talk to each other to start with has been a challenge. But it's, it's wonderful. Now, that dialogue started, I absolutely think it's going to create a new industry, actually, the kind of economic potential of this is huge. We've talked a lot about netzero. With power beaming, you can potentially rethink the way the grid works, vision 30 Next views on that, you know, you're potentially removing some of the need for, for the fixed infrastructure. But actually just as a spin off benefit, you're opening up a whole new economic frontier in space, you're creating the demand environment, everything Alice has just been been talking about. So the job creation, the economic spin offs, on the way that Martin's touched on, it's just going to be a huge economically productive journey, and one, which hopefully government finance industry, everyone's gonna come on.

Andrew Grill:

So you actually called out Nick, way, Thea, who is the Chief Executive of the Energy Institute, my burning question is, who's going to get their first nuclear fusion space by solar power? Or something else? Who's going to win the race?

Nick Wayth:

Thanks for the question. I'm not sure it's necessarily a race. I mean, this these are two quite different propositions. I mean, what happened? What was announced yesterday around nuclear fusion, clearly very exciting. You know, all the time I followed nuclear fusion, it's been 10 years away. There is a risk in 10 years time, it will still be 10 years away. But and that's not to undermine the progress that's been made. And we should continue to play some bets on that. I think what's been described today, this is new and novel to me. I've learned a lot. I think it's, it's a different proposition. And what you have technically presented is feasible today. You with the right finance, you could go and do this, which is not the case with with nuclear fusion. I think the the race really is against what's already there. You've talked about wind and solar, you showed that very exciting LCMV chart. And I'm sure you've forecast into the future to predict solar, onshore and offshore wind prices. I mean, what I would say is every historic prediction for LTO is on solar and wind has been wrong. And it's been wrong in the right direction, in so much as it's consistently come in cheaper than anybody expected. And so I think the ratio facing is, is, you know, the race that you can bring down your cost curve versus the cost curve of the alternative. And the alternative is, you know, simply put, it's going to be solar, it's going to be wind, integrated to some degree with storage, demand side response, maybe hydrogen in the mix. That's, that's what the race is really against. And I think the thing that really struck me was, you know, that that first project 16 billion, I think you said, Sam, and then projects, two, three, and four, magically come down to three, or 4 billion apiece. And I guess there's two pathways you can follow here, there's a there's a solar equivalent, the onshore and the on ground terror solar story where that has played out, and that's played out, because millions and millions of solar panels have been produced. And that cost has continued to fall. A similar trend has happened in wind, where we've seen the turbine cost and everything else around it come down. And that's been the scalability, it's that it's the, the replication of doing the same thing over and over again. Conversely, in nuclear, we've seen the opposite, we build one project, it's really expensive, we build a second one, it's even more expensive. And I guess I could see a pathway where this could follow either of those directions. You've talked about the modular nature of it, you've talked about, you know, lots of small things going up and little robots making it all happen. And that's very scalable and replicable. Equally, just the ability to get you know, that first project going and then, you know, the second project through the door, has quite a lot of risks. These are massive projects, when you look at them in that respect. So I think ultimately, it comes down to the economics and you know, do you believe the 16 billion number? Or can you believe the 3 billion number?

Andrew Grill:

Anyone like to respond to that? Is it Is it achievable 16 billion or bust?

Martin Soltau:

Nick, we're gonna have a good debate in the bar afterwards, just a clarification on the 16 billion. So that's the development and then the production cost. The only other observation is that some of the intermittent technologies as I'm showing, you know, there's more more than they do. They impose a cost on the grid. So that LCMV is a very crude measure of cost and if you have a very high percentage of energy generation, then you impose a massive cost on the grid. And there are some metrics around there, but it's maybe 25 to 35 pounds per megawatt hour. And so hugely depends on these things that don't exist. Storage at the right. Sustainability cost, technical performance, carbon capture and storage, is that ever going to be a thing? Is it really going to be sustainable? A lot of people think it's just not going to be possible. That's why I say this is uncertainty. We've got us pursue all of these things, because it's really, really important that we get there. This is not competing with anything. But it's giving government new options. And because the characteristics are so compelling, it's worth going for.

Nick Wayth:

Just come back on that a little bit. Martin, and I, you know, I agree with the point you're making about variability of of renewables mean, clearly, the ability to predict that has got an awful lot better the ability to manage that. I mean, you know, just 10 years ago, people sort of said that the grid would come to a grinding halt, as soon as we got 20% penetration of renewables, that hasn't happened. Now, the reason largely hasn't happened is because of natural gas, not because of storage, but those technologies continued to come down the cost curve, demand side response, digital is going to play a massive role in managing that variability. So I think there is a reality that you are competing with something that is going to get cheaper, and ultimately that, you know, these things are driven by the commercial aspects of it as much as anything else. Yeah.

Martin Soltau:

I agree with that. I think a big competition is other technologies that solve the problem. Yeah, agree.

Andrew Grill:

Astley, the back who's manning the live stream? So do we have any online questions that are burning?

Astley Pung:

Yes, Andrew, there is one question here that asked is how does the UK maintain his lead in this new business, compete with the rest of the world and not end up giving it away to outside investors?

Sam Alden:

The UK does have some real strengths. And actually, I think that's one of the reasons why the Space Engineers should is is very exciting. The UK is never going to go toe to toe with other governments in terms of investment into space. We're not even at the races, and I don't think we're ever going to be but actually we have some real strengths me Alice used to be driving this we tend to lead the world in regulation will certainly be there or there abouts. Next, we've got a world leading financial sector set in the city. Combine that with the fact that we're there are there abouts in terms of inorbit robotics in close proximity, proximity operations. And the fact we've got got this UK design, which Martin talked about, you've got a lot of the fundamentals for the UK to be a significant player here, it's definitely going to be a an international endeavour when the dust settles, but actually with the right financing, now the UK can build some real capability. That means when it comes to bigger partnerships further downstream, we're actually a significant player rather than a minority player. So it does for me come down to this financing, it comes down to the government being suitably supportive such that we can actually unlock the city, make this finance civil and really drive a very ambitious but really impactful project. It's the sort of thing the world needs. And I think there's the collaborative will to really make this happen. I

Alice Bunn:

think it's interesting, isn't it? The first thing I would say we have to do is to recognise this as a strategic capability. If you look at the, you know, the words around the integration review, is this something we need to own? Is this something that we just need to collaborate on? Or is this something that we simply need to get assured access to? And I think in the past, our decisions that were made, which were primarily driven by strategic security interests were very much in the shadows. And I think that is actually coming out now. And people are recognising if this is a strategic capability, then we do need to take steps to make sure that we can retain that lead, or selectively identify the international partnerships that we want to take this forward with. But there's it's moved. I think I'm putting words into marks mouth, maybe he'll talk about it later on. But I think that agenda is moving on.

Astley Pung:

There's another question here. From the Australian perspective, any perspective on action or current research in Australia, that's the

Martin Soltau:

sort of ministerial level interest. There's a company in Australia, solar space technologies, which is collaboration with John Mankins, who's probably the sort of world expert in in space by solar power and the Big Daddy, they've got a programme around John's concept a little bit like us, looking for funding, particularly government support, and I think it'd be great to do something with Australia and with all those companies who are keen to particularly SSTV

Andrew Grill:

got a question down the front.

Audience Member:

What can go wrong, stick in these things up there. They're really big, the stuff flying around. We don't have to worry too much about things hitting so little satellites most of the time.

Ali Stickings:

Anytime you do anything in space. There's there's a lot of things that can go wrong. I mean, it can go wrong at launch. We've gotten so much better at launch, but occasionally it still goes wrong. So there's obviously a risk of one of the launches with with many parts not making it I mean, we just saw was it yesterday SpaceX launch 40 of their satellites because of a solar, you know, solid. So that can happen, something could go wrong during the robotic assembly, you could lose one or one or more of the modules. There are so many hazards in space just from solar energy from radiation, micro meteorites, for example, and other satellites. So there are risks. And I think it's to build resilience into it, and to ensure that the modules are replaceable. So so you're not actually losing a satellite at the end of its life, you're constantly replenishing it, being able to perhaps looking down the line actually being able to recycle the modules that have been replaced. So a lot can go wrong, what we need to do is just identify as many of those possibilities and work out how to mitigate.

Alice Bunn:

It's very much around mitigation. And, you know, typically, you've talked about some sort of radiation risk, and that's got to be high here, but I couldn't resist doing the show. So you know, on space weather monitoring, we are really, really good in the UK at this. I don't think people know about it, it's an absolutely essential if we don't have that space where the monitoring capability and other GPS work, none of the navigation systems work. None of the, you know, astronauts get fried. Frankly, if you look back to the 60s, do you do you look back to the 60s, and you look at those series of Apollo missions. It's remarkable that they all well, not all of them, but they came back alive. Because seriously, the solar weather was incredible. Now in the UK, we're leading that we're leading all the European efforts. And we've got a really solid partnership with the US on this as well. So to your question, it's about really understanding what the risks are, and understanding where we already have capability to mitigate them.

Andrew Grill:

On that note, will you join me in thanking our amazing panel, Martin Soltau, Dr. Atul spawn Sam Edlund and Ellie sticking thank you so much. Now, we actually do to not be very fortunate we have the ear of government, because I'd like now to turn over to our special guests, Mark Aria, who was MP for wire forest and also chair of the all party parliamentary group for space and chair of the space energy initiative, advisory board for some closing remarks.

Mark Garnier:

Thank you very much, indeed. And thank you all for coming along to this. As a politician, of course, I sit here in the audience, and I got the answer to every question which is comes along. And so I can't pass up this opportunity just to make a few a few comments about, about this extraordinary adventure. So So yes, you're absolutely right, I chaired the advisory board of the of the space energy initiative. So I'm very, very closely involved in this and also a member of parliament and very involved in the political side of the of the whole of the space initiative that we have within within the UK Government. But of course, I also used to be an investment banker, and a hedge fund manager, actually, so I have the hat trick as the three most unpopular jobs known to know to humanity. But it's but I do understand the money side of this thing. And there are a number of things that have come out of this. And I think I think the first point that I would make is this is, I see this as a startup, phenomenally exciting and great venture for this country. I think it is astonishing what we are proposing to do. At the moment, we're about to, to solve a whole load of problems that humanity faces over the coming decades, we are incredibly hungry for energy. If you think about how much energy we're using at the moment, is it absolutely astonishing. And so quite correctly, we've set a target of net zero by 2050. But as part of that, we've also set a target to get rid of all manufacturing of internal combustion engines in this country. In under eight years, we've got two colossal problems with that. The first is we've got an awful lot of people who make engines in this country. And the second problem is that something like half of the total energy usage in this country is spent on transportation. Now that includes trains and aeroplanes as well. But we are going to try to expect that by in 15 years time, potentially, that everybody's car is going to be replaced by an electric car. And you and Andrew, you make that point about these these wretched leads all over the place. But this is a colossal drain on the national grid. In order to make that work, we're going to have to dig up unbelievable quantities of rare earth elements and turn them into batteries. That in itself is hugely, hugely expensive on in terms of the climate, and natural resources. And we're going to try and do this and and find the electricity, which is actually going to have to come from from nuclear really in order to get that baseload. We've done heroically? Well on nuclear fusion. I mean, it is I've been following this. And actually, I'm pleased to see that we've it's only ever been 10 years away. I always thought that the the argument was it, it's 30 years away. But on the base of that after superhuman efforts, and billions of pounds spent and many, many decades, yesterday, we got to the point where we can heat up 60 kettles. Now that's not to belittle the fantastic amount of effort and really brilliant science that's been going into this. But I think if we were 30 years away, we're probably 29 years away 28 years away, and it's going to be something very difficult. I really want us to get this right. And I want Britain to be part of nuclear fusion. But this is something which we can get going much quicker, with huge amounts of brilliance. spin off this idea of in orbit manufacturing and in orbit assembly. All of the technology that comes out of this is phenomenal. And the answer to the question of can we keep hold of this technology in the UK is absolutely we can last year we passed the National Security and Investment Act, which is all about making sure we don't sell out are our key key technology. And the final point I've made is how are we going to pay for this? This is a really, really big deal. I mean, you know, 16 billion is a lot of money by anybody's standards. Well, having said that, we have actually been spending quite a lot of money on COVID Recently, but this is a very, very important thing. And it's hit the nail on the head. Green guilt is absolutely right. There are there is an awful lot of money out there, which has been generated by the oil and gas industry. If there are huge amounts of money in petrochemical nations with sovereign wealth funds, they've been very wisely putting this money aside. Saudi Aramco has something in the region of $3 trillion $3 trillion. That's three with 12 notes after it in case anybody's asked you all engineers, you should know that it's some that's a lot of money. But you've got the Brunei sovereign wealth cap fund, you've got the mandala and the United Arab Emirates, you've got the Norwegian sovereign wealth fund, you've got a lot of sovereign wealth funds out there. Similarly, you've got oil and gas companies, we've just seen shell and BP have generated or posted profits of over 10 billion 16 billion, I think it is between the two of them. This week, very, very controversially, what's important about this is that the the green guilt element has a name, which is environmental and social governance. And ESG. Governance is incredibly important for businesses. Because if you are ESG governance compliant, you can get a higher valuation on your share price, because you will have more people investing into your shares, these companies have to invest in something like this. Otherwise, they're not going to get the they're not going to have a future and they're not going to have full valuations on their shares. And trust me, I was an investment banker, and I'm a politician. So there's a lot of great opportunities coming out of this. And I think it's incredibly exciting, that we're part of this, this really, really amazing venture which these guys here are getting started and and I have to confess when they first came along and said, Do you want to get involved in this I had this vision of this laser beam coming down from space and dove flocks of doves flying into it and coming out looking like Kentucky Fried Chicken at the end of it. That's not going to happen. It is it is super safe. And I can absolutely guarantee you that none of us will be getting involved in anything that is going to be in the slightest bit dangerous and potentially weaponized. This is not James Bond and the and that film where there was zapping an aeroplane I can't remember what it was called. But it was over the DMZ in North Korea. But look, it's very exciting. Thank you to all of you. It's been really really interesting. Martin and Sam have got me involved in this. Alice I've known for a few years and with our activities and space and Alia it's great to meet you for the first time today. I'm sure we will we will get to know each other over the coming months. And Andrew, thank you very much and Australian engineers, you're great guys been checking out the form of the Barbie. We'll have a Foster's later. And it's been absolutely fantastic. Thank you all very much for coming on. Thank you for what you're doing with this.

Outro:

Thank you for listening to the actionable Futurist podcast you can find all of our previous shows as actionable futurist.com. And if you like what you've heard on the show, please consider subscribing via your favourite podcast app, so you never miss an episode. You can find out more about Andrew and how he helps corporates navigate a disruptive digital world with keynote speeches and C suite workshops delivered in person or virtually at actionable futurist.com. Until next time, this has been the actionable futures project

Welcome from Andrew Grill
Martin Soltau overview of Space-Based Solar Power
The net-zero agenda
How it works
Why develop this when there are existing alternatives?
Space solar power gives Governments options
Can we ever get to net-zero?
Solar power vs Nuclear Fusion
What will this solution cost?
Where will we site the receiving atennas?
The regulatory risks
How can we manage multiple satellites flying in space?
How environmentally sustainable is the project?
The role of Government
What is required now?
The security concerns
The new standards required
Who regulates the space segment
What are the spin-off benefits
What are other countries doing?
The UK-Australia Space Bridge
The Institution of Mechanical Engineering policy focus areas
The Space Energy Initiative
The job creation opportunities
Nick Wayth Chief Executive at Energy Institute comments
Audience question: How can the UK maintain a lead in this area?
Audience question: What is happening in Australia?
Audience question: What can go wrong?
Mark Garnier MP closing remarks