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It is perhaps one of the more outlandish solutions to solving the problem of  Earth's dwindling energy supplies.An American power company plans to send solar panels into space to harvest energy from the sun and transmit it back to Earth using radio waves.Pacific Gas and Electric, which serves San Francisco and northern California, is to seek approval to buy 200 megawatts of energy from solar power firm Solaren.Within seven years,

Solaren plans to send a satellite equipped with solar panels around 22,000 miles into space on board a conventional rocket.Unfurled in space, the panels would bask in near-constant sunshine - uninterrupted by clouds or bad weather - and provide a steady flow of electricity day and night.

The orbiting solar 'farm' would collect energy from the sun and then convert it into radio waves which would beam the power back to antennae in California.The radio transmissions would then be converted into usable electricity and fed back into the conventional power grid.Sunlight in space is at least ten times more powerful than that on Earth, making orbiting solar panels far more efficient than those which are land-based.Solaren believes the technology could provide enough clean electricity to power at least 150,000 Californian homes.

The theory behind transmitting solar energy via radio waves was proved by Nasa in 2008 when solar power was beamed 90 miles between two Hawaiian islands.Land-based solar arrays can only generate power during the day and require huge expanses of land before they become efficient. But even though the solar array would unfurl on its own, the costs of sending the satellite into space are extremely high and repairs on the panels would be impossible.If the Pacific Gas and Electric is given the go-ahead then 

Solaren will have to privately raise billions of dollars to design, launch and operate a satellite as well as the energy-receiving ground station. Despite fears that the beam of energy would resemble a science-fiction 'death-ray', experts insist it would be completely safe. Solaren's founder, Gary Sprinak, aircraft passing through the radio beam would not be affected in any way.

Swiss-based firm Space Energy also intends to use space-based solar power to create clean electricity and plans to send a prototype satellite into space within the next year. Space Energy's solar array would be able to generate one gigawatt of power almost continuously, about the same output as a large nuclear plant.A spokesman for PG&E said: 'We're convinced it's a very serious possibility that they can make this work.'It's staggering how much power is potentially available in space. And I say 'potentially' because a lot remains unknown about the cost and other details.'Daniel Kammen, professor in energy and resources at the University of California, Berkeley, told the Guardian: 'The ground rules are looking kind of promising. It is doable. Whether it is doable at a reasonable cost, we just don't know.'

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