Solar energy is great in theory, but the problem is that panels need to face the sun, which is frequently behind clouds or shining down at some less-than-optimal angle. The solution? Put solar panels in space, of course! Duh!
That's just what the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) has begun working on, actually. They are currently working on the hardware, and plan to have a Space Solar Power System (SSPS) up and running by 2030.
The setup would consist of a satellite-type object in orbit about 22,400 miles above the surface of the Earth. Terrifyingly, the satellite would convert the sun's rays into laser beams and shoot them down to base stations on Earth. Yes, lasers would fire down from space. But friendly lasers, so, you know, it's cool.
On February 20th, JAXA is going to begin testing these crazy laser beam transmitters designed to send the precious energy down from orbit. It's a long ways away from this actually being put into use, but researchers claim that when all is said and done, one of these things in orbit can provide basically free power to a whopping 500,000 homes, so we say take all the time you need. Sounds great to us. [Hokkaido Shimbun via Pink Tentacle]