By David R. Criswell
Our Sun is the primary power source driving life on Earth. It has enabled us to use massive flows of oil, coal, and natural gas burned with oxygen to provide approximately 85% of the 15 trillion watts of commercial thermal power that energizes the $60-trillion-a-year world economy.
Our Sun is the only reasonable source for sustainable global-scale commercial power. But we cannot gather it dependably and inexpensively on Earth. Our biosphere interrupts the flow of solar power with varying day–night cycles, clouds, fog, rain, smoke, dust, and volcanic ash. These forces act with floods, wind, sandstorms, industrial chemicals, biofilms, animals, earthquakes, etc., to attack the necessary large-area solar installations. Extremely expensive, planetary-scale power storage, of indeterminable capacity, and global-scale power distribution systems will be required to deliver electricity somewhat reliably to consumers all around the world. Japan’s nuclear power plants deliver approximately 50 GWe of commercial power. An Earth-based station receiving solar energy from the Moon (a rectenna) could easily be built to produce that amount of power for commercial use. Moreover, such rectennas would never release radioactivity or CO2 and could be quickly replaced at low cost after a disaster.
For these reasons and others, solar power from the Moon is our best shot at meeting future energy demands. If the United States had stayed on the Moon during the 1970s, focusing on using the common lunar materials to manufacture at low cost the simple standard components of a lunar solar power system, then today, not only the United States but also the rest of the world would be green, prosperous, and secure. Such a system would pay for itself with 15 years of use.
Our primary challenge is mental. We must refocus our actions from battling each other and Earth for the declining resources within our limited biosphere and instead tap the Moon for solar power that is engineered to meet our needs.
David R. Criswell is the director of the Institute for Space Systems Operations at the University of Houston. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.