For millennia humans have looked up at the Moon with wonder, it has been at the forefront human exploration beyond our planet over the past 75 years and it is still the only other celestial object that humans have set foot on other than Earth. Over the past 30 years though our interest in the Moon has faded, after the Moon landings in the 1960’s and 70’s found that it was an inherently dead world we have moved further out into the solar system in our search for life. This looks like it could be about the change.
The first thing I should say about this article is that it is not strictly focussed on smart cities, but it is about how we can meet the long term energy needs of the planet and therefore it could have a big impact on the future of our cities. Imagine cities did not need to worry about energy production because there is an environmentally friendly alternative that supplies enough energy for the whole planet. Cities would be left to focus on the numerous other challenges that they have and could put 100% of their effort into solving social problems, inequality and improving quality of life.
Taking solar energy from the Moon is not a new idea, for the past 30 years Astrophysicist Dr. David Criswell has been championing the idea of setting up a moon base that would, through solar energy, provide Earth with up to 13000 Terawatts of clean and environmentally friendly energy.
One big advantage of having solar panels on the Moon is the lack of weather – there is no atmosphere, no water, no wind and no mechanical vibrations. The amount of energy that will be harnessed by the solar panels is 100% predictable which cannot be said for solar energy generation on the surface of Earth. On Earth solar panels are built to withstand the weather, but on the Moon they would not need to be as strong. In fact it is Dr. Criswell’s prediction that the solar panels could be as thin as tissue paper and they would still gather the required energy.
The thought of harnessing energy from the Moon raises many questions, how do we transport the energy back to Earth? How do we transport the solar panels there in the first place? Who will build and maintain the power plant?
The answer to the first question is fairly simple and it utilises a technology that we have understood for many years now, Microwaves. The energy can be transported back through microwaves, these waves will be collected at a number of energy storage points across the globe before being passed onto the energy grid.
In response to the second question the answer is that we not manufacture the panels on Earth and transport them, but we can manufacture them on the Moon. The dust on the Moon is essentially ground up rocks and glass and this can be used to manufacture and maintain all of the working parts of the solar panels.
The answer to both of these questions is fairly simple and straightforward because they are both a matter for science, we have the technology and know-how to be able to do this right now. The big problem with the project is when we look at economies of scale. For this project to be an economical success it would require the majority of the world to buy into the delivery of the project and this is where the challenges begin. It would require cooperation between countries and across continents which is difficult at the very best of times, but if the superpowers of the planet all got together and decided that this was the best way to secure the long term energy needs for the planet then there is no scientific reason why the project could not be a success.
We do not expect to see this project take off next week, next year or even in the next decade, but as our energy needs increase and our ability to provide clean and green energy on Earth become even more challenging it may require the big powers of the world to get together to make this project a reality.