Grow lunar-based solar panels to eliminate fossil-fuel reliance, says kid

Self-replicating solar panels located on the moon could be the answer to fossil-fuel elimination on Earth, says a high school senior. The youngster is being taken seriously by academics.

the moon
Thangaraj Kumaravel via Flickr

Nearly 200 countries signed the fossil fuel ramp-down agreement in Paris at the end of last year. New goals are now in place to end the use of fossil fuels worldwide. No more global warming could be in the cards.

Sounds good, right? Well it probably is, but there’s a slight problem: Just how are we going to power our smartphones, homes, factories, and Internets without coal and gas? That’s a lot of solar panels and windfarms needed—and needed quickly.

One high school kid reckons he’s got the answer, reported Popular Science magazine a few weeks ago: Just stick a bunch of solar panels on the moon and beam the power back down to Earth by microwave.

Why the moon?

There’s no shade, concept creator and high school senior Justin Lewis-Weber says.

“Earth-based solar power peaks during midday, then degrades in the evening, inversely to electricity demand,” the senior explains in his paper published in New Space, a peer-reviewed journal covering new space innovation edited by a Stanford professor.

“When people get home from work at around 5:00 P.M., there is a massive demand spike just as sunlight is fading,” Lewis-Weber says. Therefore coal and gas power generation has to kick in—which is actually running all day anyway for convenience and to anticipate the spike, Lewis-Weber explains.

The moon location solves that problem—you can simply point the panels at the sun all the time, he says he has figured out. There’s no shade.

So, in theory, it sounds good, right? Turn coal and gas off, dump a bunch of panels on the moon, and everyone’s happy.

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But, ah, you might say: Isn’t there a flaw in the argument? Just how are you going to get the panels up there—that’s a lot of Space X moon-shuttle missions, and just how does one get the power back down to Earth. It’s a long way to string a cable. What kind of linesman skills are you going to need for that job? ‘Wanted: Space linesmen. We supply the astronaut suit’?

Well, you in fact don’t run cable, the young man says. The answer is to grow the panels using moon products; and you simply beam the power back using safe levels of microwave. Presumably, at the same time, hoping the pointing and power-level control mechanisms work right.

It’s not all pie in the sky. Despite the proximity to April 1, this is actually a real story and an already touched-on subject. The Popular Science article points readers to another paper for reference:

“The vision of delivering solar power to Earth from platforms in space has been known for decades,” says John C. Mankins, in his 2012 paper “The First Practical Solar Power Satellite via Arbitrarily Large Phased Array.”

So, believe it or not, it logically could work, suggest the experts.

Or maybe the term ‘could work’ in that last statement ought to be ‘might work.’ Which reminds me of the semantical typo that almost caused the globally-agreed Paris COP21 fossil-fuel elimination agreement to fail on the last day of talks.

Diplomacy saved the day. The U.S had a problem with the word ‘shall’ in the context of: developed countries ‘shall’ reduce emissions. The word ‘shall’ got changed to ‘should’ in the final translation. It was a typo, the countries all agreed in the hotwash later.

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