Monday, March 22, 2010

Solar Power Via The Moon

Prosperity for everyone on Earth by 2050 will require
a sustainable source of electricity equivalent to 3 to
5 times the commercial power currently produced.
Because of the low average incomes in developing coun-
tries, however, this energy must be provided at one-tenth
the present total cost per kilowatt-hour. Solar-power sta-
tions constructed on the moon from com-
mon lunar materials could provide the
clean, safe, low-cost commercial electric
energy needed on Earth. -Dr. David Criswell.
 The above is from an article in The Industrial Physicist Magazine, April/May 2002. The country was still swimming in cheap oil, and the political and social drive for energy independence and protection of the biosphere - intelligent long term national policy - simply did not exist.

Today, early 2010, the world is finally pushing to get beyond the oil economy. Alternative energy is getting a lot of press. The public is beginning to think about biosphere preservation, and future energy shortages. Oil companies are beginning to finance alternative energy projects. Wind farms are beginning to dot the countryside. Solar technology implementations are increasing. Political muscle is once again pushing nuclear fission as the answer to our energy problems, a hugely misguided and expensive mistake.

A lot has changed in the past eight years. What has not changed, is the efficacy of Dr. Criswell's vision, that a Lunar Solar Power system is the safest, least expensive, most accessible way to adequately supply Earth's energy needs, keeping pace with growing world population, while protecting the biosphere, and allowing emerging economies to expand.

Dr. Criswell's presentation to the World Energy Council, 18th Congress, Buenos Aires, comparing the various energy systems, by their worldwide potential capacities, is a thoroughly researched, eye opening perspective on the problem we face - and the solution within our reach.

A new race for the moon has begun. Amazingly, the race was declared first between Japan and China. Caught by surprise, the U.S. announced it's entry later on, only to declare the effort a waste of money, as of February 2010. Abandoning the moon effort is an energy security mistake.

Abandoning the Moon to China is poor policy.

The Chinese government is pragmatic, strategic, and masterful at pursuing multiple aims simultaneously, while masking their true objective. They would not go to the moon, if they were not certain they would attain substantial economic and military benefit. Their calculations always balance economic growth, social stability, and military development.

If China, alone or in partnership with Russia, builds and operates a Lunar Solar Power system, and can run their economy on cheap electricity - one tenth the present cost  - they will have economic and military advantage over the rest of the planet. The United States could see its economy manipulated, via electric supply and rates - by China and its allies, much as OPEC manages oil production quotas today.

For China and Japan, the moon race incentive may be fusion reaction fuel. The moon is a rich source of helium 3, which is almost non-existent on earth. It's considered the ideal fuel for nuclear fusion, referred to as  "clean nuclear". Fusion power is not presently a viable power source, and won't be anytime soon, but H3 would allow nuclear weapons to be far smaller than existing hydrogen fusion warheads - increasing the reach of countries with less powerful rockets. For this reason, the drive to develop H3 fuel from the moon is not in Earth's best interest.

There's a long term security benefit to beaming power to earth from the moon. Solar power via the moon would put the cost of electricity so low that nuclear power from any source would not be feasible. This would eliminate the threatening uncertainty posed by dual-use nuclear programs.

The public, and much of congress, isn't aware of the alternative and viability of the Lunar Solar Power system, because it doesn't get much press.  Money for alternative energy research and development is mainly spent by - and to protect the interests of - current energy industry players. Press releases and advertisements from those organizations tend to drive the news about energy technology.

Solar power via the moon is beyond their business models, foreign to their shareholders, but it needn't be. The system is understood by many in energy research, space, and politics, to hold much promise.

Partnering with NASA, private industry can be involved in building and operating the Lunar Solar Power system.

Unfortunately, NASA is suffering from a lack of leadership vision, resulting in the short sighted early termination of the Space Shuttle program, and scrapping any plans for human lunar spaceflight. Development of the Lunar Solar Power System implies low earth orbit construction capability, in addition to lunar travel. NASA administrator Bolden's lack of vision and leadership regarding the Lunar Solar Power System is a disservice to President Obama, and members of the House and Senate, who are not aware of the Lunar Solar Power System, it's technical viability, nor of the risk of being disadvantaged when other countries implement such a system without us.

Solar power via the moon can supply a world of 10 billion people in 2050 with the needed 20TWe-y of clean, affordable, sustainable, safe power. It can be built with today's technology. It separates electricity generation from our biosphere, for low cost at $0.01/kWe-h. No Greenhouse gases. No kinetic uncertainty, as with wind power. No dual use nuclear. No need for fossil fuel back up systems. Load-following supply without the need to build long-distance transmission lines.

The United States should be leading the effort to establish a Lunar Solar Power System, in cooperation with our existing space station partners, for the benefit of the biosphere, and our economy. This is the right thing to do, for ourselves, for the health and security of the planet, and for the less fortunate in emerging economies around the world, whose growing energy needs will not be addressed, given the limitations of terrestrial technologies.