Space, the new frontier of renewables

There are surprising connections between space technology and solar and wind plants. We are studying space applications to support the planet with the European Space Agency, the Italian Space Agency, and Elon Musk’s SpaceX.

Renewable energy for spaceship Earth. Technologies that make it possible to use energy sources like the wind and the sun are increasingly interconnected with the development of space technology, and vice versa. For years, solar panels have been one of the most commonly used technologies to produce energy in space; but it is also important to emphasize that data from space satellites can provide irradiation maps, which can be useful when selecting the best locations to build solar plants and also new wind farms.

Enel Green Power and the European Space Agency (ESA) partnered up in 2019, tackling together the challenge of finding solutions to promote the development of applications from the space sector to support energy security as well as economic and environmental sustainability. This way, investments in space generate benefits for our planet as well.

A Network in the Sky

Nowadays, there is also another way in which space satellites make it easier to build renewable energy plants. Enel Green Power is collaborating with SpaceX, the aerospace company founded by Elon Musk in 2002, to improve the connectivity of construction sites and power plants located in remote areas by using the Starlink Low Earth Orbit system. It is the first satellite internet provider, conceived and developed as a constellation of satellites in low orbit (the area of space between 300 and 1,000 km from the surface of the earth).

Starlink currently has around a thousand satellites located between 540 and 570 km in altitude, but the project aims to have 12,000 satellites in low orbit. It is a revolution that will give everyone the chance to be connected to the world of the internet regardless of where they find themselves, even in the Atacama Desert or in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.

As Enel Green Power’s Innovation Team, we couldn’t miss the opportunity to be connected in one click, to have that connectivity to run all IoT technologies, edge computing, and robotics for all our plants, both under construction and in operation. We work in the most remote corners to turn the digitalization of our sites from a dream into a constructive reality.”

Matteo Cantù, Head of Innovation Industry 4.0 Chapter at Enel Green Power

The results from the tests carried out at the Alta Farms II wind farm in Illinois and at the Azure Sky Solar photovoltaic plant in Texas (both under construction) are confirming our expectations.

Lunar projects

There is also another sector destined for some interesting developments: using renewable energy in colonization projects, starting from the moon.

Enel Green Power (along with other companies in the Group) was asked by our partner Innovazione Thales Alenia Space to join a project that also involves the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Italian Space Agency (ASI), and that falls within the framework of the Artemis program.

Enel Green Power conducted a pre-feasibility study for an actual Lunar Power Plant (LPP) to store and distribute the energy required for the activities of the next colonists. “The design approach used for the pre-feasibility study for the Lunar Power Plant (LPP) in an environment with completely different operational constraints can lead to applications that are entirely innovative on Earth. Pushing technology to its limits, like Formula 1 did in the car industry, for example, is actually a driving force for solutions that would not have been developed otherwise,” stated Andrea Canino, Head of the project for Enel Green Power and Head of the Catania Innovation Lab.

The goal is to have structures that are already operational and tested on the moon by 2035.

But at Enel Green Power, we’re particularly interested in studying space technologies so it can improve the living conditions of people here on Earth, contributing in important ways to sustainability and the energy transition.