Reflect Orbital: the California startup that wants to sell sunlight after dark to solar farms | Photo: Reflect Orbital

In the age of artificial intelligence, robotics, and automation, it's hard to come up with a truly disruptive idea. Reflect Orbital is an exception.

We all know that, sooner or later, the sun shines for everyone.

While this conception is theoretically correct, it lacks its temporary nature because after the day comes the night.

But imagine the day never ended.

It was based on this groundbreaking formulation, which in a way defies the foundations of the Solar System, that a startup from Santa Monica, California thought about selling sunlight after dark.

Reflect Orbital is building space mirrors to reflect sunlight on solar panels at night. The goal is to maximize solar farm's energy production.

According to the Global Energy Monitor, there are around 8,300 solar farms operating worldwide.

Our planet has, on average, around 12 daily hours of sunlight, but only part is actually cloudless, sunny skies.

On a cloudy day, a solar panel is expected to produce 10 to 25 percent of its normal power output.

So, the downtime of a solar farm could be well over 50 percent.

"We think sunlight is the new oil, and space is ready to support energy infrastructure," explained Ben Nowack, CEO of Reflect Orbital.

"By precisely reflecting sunlight that is endlessly available in space to specific targets on the ground, we can create a world where sunlight powers solar farms for longer than just daytime, and in doing this, commoditize sunlight."

"The Russians launched a reflector satellite [Znamya] in the 1990s, and it worked, but we've come a long way since then."

Sunlight On-Demand

The startup believes a constellation of simple reflector satellites in low Earth orbit (LEO) can boost solar farms at night.

The challenge to deliver on-demand renewable energy requires rockets and getting a lot of affordable mirror areas into space.

The first step was to build and test a prototype.

On August 31st, 2023, Reflect Orbital completed its real-life experimentation with a hot-air balloon equipped with a large mirror.

By pointing the mirror toward a mobile solar farm, the entrepreneurs were able to monitor the impact on the panels.

The test successfully generated 60, 120, and then 140 watts by reflecting the early morning sun rays from the sky down to terra firma.

Space is the last stage of Reflect Orbital's business plan. The company's first satellite is currently being developed.

Ben Nowack and Tristan Semmelhack (CTO) believe solar cells are the best electricity generators.

"There are no moving parts - they're cheap, built on the semiconductor industry, and fueled by a near infinite energy source," notes the Reflect Orbital CEO.

But why doesn't the sun provide most of our energy?

"It's a simple answer: around any given location, the sun stops shining on solar farms for a huge chunk of the day, just like a generator running out of gas.

"If sunlight were present 24/7, solar energy would dominate. This dominance would unlock low-cost, global scale clean energy."

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