Is the moon the answer to all our solar problems?

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The moon may not have appeared quite so far off this week, but its potential as a solar farm site still feels distant. But is that accurate? We are all aware, as Elon Musk has put it, that the the sun is “our fusion reactor in the sky”.  The real problem is closer to home: planet Earth. We have nights, we have cloudy days and more often than not in the UK we have cloudy nights and cloudy days.

We also have plenty of humans. Our planet is crawling with them, and a lot of them are very good at preventing solar development at scale. Humans have a real talent at creating complicated planning conditions, arguing about the validity of global warming, and making space available for other things than PV infrastructure. According to research conducted by Robert Ferry and Elizabeth Monoian from the Land Art Generator Initiative (LOGI), to power the entire planet, solar panels would need to cover 191,817 sq. miles. That’s the equivalent of covering the entirety of Spain in solar panels. And then just think about how big the batteries would need to be.

In its pre-colonised state the moon just doesn’t have these issues. What’s more, the light the moon receives is 27 percent brighter than anything recorded on the earth owing to its lack of atmosphere. Whilst you wouldn’t want to holiday there, the moon has a wonderful climate for solar – it has no weather. So far, so simple. We should build a solar farm on the moon to provide all the earth’s energy.

There are however a number of small hurdles to overcome. First of all, you’ve got to get a very large number of solar panels from the earth onto the moon. Then you’ve got to install them, and then you’ve got to get the energy they create back to the earth.

Let’s assume – or dream – that money isn’t an issue, perhaps imagine that FiTs have gone interstellar, or actually for once governments can work together on a long term strategy. Getting the energy back from the panels to Earth is relatively straight forward. This technology exists, and whilst there are a number of safeguards that would need to be put in place, it is feasible. You’d also be able to target where on the planet needed energy, and beam it down to them as demand peaked. Simple.   

The real problem is getting the panels themselves onto the Moon. Elon Musk might appear the path of least resistance here as both a solar advocate and space travel enthusiast, but a single SpaceX ‘trip’ currently costs approximately £50 million and he is yet to land anything on the moon. There is at least one person in the world who has tried to solve this problem, however that person happens to be of high school age, with a penchant for self-replicating robots.

So whilst the moon comes into focus this week, sadly we are still some way off realising its solar potential. There is no credible and cost effective way to deliver a lunar-solar farm. When any project veers into the realms of space travel and self- replicating robots, you know that it makes more sense to confront the man-made barriers to solar development and delivery, rather than the big ones the universe has created for us.