12/20/2014

Technical Feasibility


In the energy discourse, we see all sorts of interesting possibilities to generate electricity but the first thing we have to understand is that electricity is a commodity and thus price is all important. One cent per kWh can make or break a technology.

Consequently, all technologies aspiring to a significant participation in the energy market need to calculate what the cost of their kWh will eventually be.

Just yesterday, this idea was brought to my attention:

http://www.lunarsolarpower.org/

Their value proposition is:

"Harnessing solar energy using solar panels on the moon would not be an easy undertaking, but if you consider what we stand to gain, Lunar Solar Power is not just a solution for our power needs as a country, it is the solution for the power needs of the world!" 

It sounds interesting, but we have to make the pertinent engineering questions:

1. How will they deal with the (long) lunar night. On Earth the intermittency of solar is bad enough and it tends to cycle in 24 hours. The lunar night lasts for a full fortnight.

2. What would be the efficiency of the conversion / transmission / conversion of the system? In other words, there is an efficiency conversion in the moon between the solar panels and the microwave transmitters, then there are losses in the space between the moon and Earth, then only a fraction of the energy emitted by the moon antennae reaches the receiving Earth antennae, and then there is further loss in the conversion of that microwave energy back to electricity.

3. What would be the useful life of the solar panels on the moon? The moon does not have an atmosphere to shield the panels from micrometeorites and thus in space the useful life of panels tends to be considerably shorter than on Earth.

4. What will be the size of the area dedicated on Earth for the receiving microwave antennae? Where will they be located? What percent of the total microwave energy emitted from the moon will hit the receiving antennae on Earth?

5. Would the population around these antennae experience any negative health effects? Would there be significant NIMBY opposition to such a project?

6. What is the time frame for a "proof of concept?" In other words, when can we expect to have running a say, one MW experimental unit on the moon beaming microwave power to the Earth?

7. And finally, all important, what would be the anticipated cost of the kWh produced by these means? If the ultimate cost is say, more than 15 cents (US), then it is probably time to go back to the drawing board.

What is the probability of more than 1% of the Earth's energy requirements supplied by this Lunar Solar Power project in 100 years? 


Feel free to add to the conversation in Twitter: @luisbaram





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