The Solar Panel Sibling: Do Lunar Panels Exist?
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We are familiar with solar panels, the revolutionary green technology that allows homeowners to go off-the-grid, paying significantly less on their energy bills. Since humanity could source energy from the sun, did we successfully create a counterpart to the solar panel — lunar panels? The moon may be bright enough to light up the night sky, but does it radiate enough power to provide us with more free energy?
Are There Lunar Panels?
Lunar panels, or moon panels, do not exist. Sunlight creates the moon’s rays, which are mere reflections. Therefore, obtaining energy from the moon would be the same as collecting sunlight during the day — if it were bright enough. Solar panels work because the sun naturally produces photons, which the moon doesn’t create on its own. Without this agency, scientifically, the moon could not be capable of charging panels equivalently.
Since we see the moon against the night sky, the severe contrast between its glow and the stars makes it appear almost a bright white depending on the conditions — images from NASA show exactly how dark grey the moon is without the sun’s help. The ability of a mass this dark to charge panels to the effectiveness of the sun in daylight is low.
However, just because lunar panels don’t exist doesn’t mean there aren’t ways to take advantage of the moon’s energy. Lunar energy is still a powerful resource humans can’t ignore, and technological developments are underway to ensure we collect as much energy as possible.
We may be unable to put a separate lunar panel array on top of our homes the same way we bolt down solar panels. But, we could change perspective slightly — by putting panels in space and on the moon to harness even more of the sun’s passive energy.
Could Humans Put Lunar Panels on the Moon?
Engineers and energy experts have toyed with the idea of installing solar panels on the moon, but there are countless environmental factors they must consider before it is even a possibility. The climate on Earth’s moon is obviously not the same as it is here. Humans have constructed and optimized solar panels to thrive in this world’s environment. Serious overhauls to solar panel blueprints and materials would have to happen to make them survive the moon.
Several moon missions discovered temperatures on the moon get to extremes. The best solution for getting the most out of the sun’s rays on the moon is to put panels at the poles. In these regions, sunlight is almost always present. Getting this energy back to Earth is another story entirely, but many have theorized this grid structure if there was a potential for a moon colony.
The setup would require transmission lines like traditional power grids and additional rovers to distribute power for systems not tied to the grid. This sounds like something from science fiction, but there is a plan to release the LunaGrid over the coming years as Earth’s first experiment in lunar power generation.
Can the Moon Charge Solar Panels?
On Earth, the light from the moon isn’t strong enough to produce a noticeable amount of energy. If a solar panel generated 3,450 W of power at high noon, it could only get 10 W during a bright, full moon. Some solar inverters even enter sleep mode at night because they aren’t generating enough power to warrant staying on.
This isn’t stopping engineers from experimenting with existing solar panels to see if they can’t optimize night light. Stanford engineers are incorporating thermoelectric generators in panels to test charging capabilities from temperature differences. Playing with solar panels’ reactions to different environmental stimuli, such as temperature and pressure from rain, could lead to even more sturdy and productive solar panels.
In addition to trying to make them more effective on the ground, scientists are planning for a moon covered in panels in the future — or at least sending solar panels as satellites into orbit. There are obstacles to overcome though, as radiation and hazards like space debris could put our modern solar panels at risk. Humans may need to create sturdier, more resilient technology to resist space hazards specifically.
How Can the Moon Help Green Energy?
Another innovation attempting to take advantage of the moon’s indirect light is a Japanese construction firm, the Shimizu Corporation. Their idea is to put a belt around the moon called the Luna Ring. This would be composed of solar cells that stretch across the moon’s equator. It would theoretically gather power every second of every day, but construction won’t start until 2035 at the earliest.
A current alternative to lunar panels may be tidal energy, which optimizes the moon’s most tangible and potent effect on the planet — moving the ocean.
The gravitational pull causes the ocean to rise and fall, which can power tidal plants lining coasts worldwide. This is an innovation of traditional hydropower since it’s as cheap as it is predictable, operating:
- Tidal barrages: This takes advantage of the potential energy created when the water changes height. The change powers turbines between the top and bottom of the dam.
- Tidal fences: These are taller fixtures that operate like turnstiles.
- Tidal turbines: This is exactly like you would imagine land turbines, but powered by the water’s currents instead of the wind.
Unfortunately, the progression of tidal plants is slow due to their high upfront costs and strict requirements for construction. Luckily due to unified goals to combat the climate crisis, an increase in federal funding is being allocated to these initiatives.
Will Lunar Power Help Lower Emissions?
The moon may require humans to get imaginative since there is still moon power to amass. Because the moon is a different entity, we have to think differently instead of assuming creating an equivalent to solar panels will be just as practical. On land, sea and space, humans are conceiving ways to obtain lunar power for a greener planet, stretching the possibilities of what constitutes sustainable forms of energy production.
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on November 20, 2022, and was updated on November 17, 2023, to provide additional information.
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About the author
Steve is the Managing Editor of Environment.co and regularly contributes articles related to wildlife, biodiversity, and recycling. His passions include wildlife photography and bird watching.