There are numerous challenges before us as we strive to create a sustainable future for humanity on the one hand and have the adventure of a lifetime on the other. One of the greatest minds in history once said, “We cannot solve problems by using the same kind of thinking that created them.” Though the challenge of achieving sustainability may seem daunting, his words are as true today as they ever were. When we look at the state of our world today, we cannot help but ask, “How did we get here?” In order to answer this question, we must travel back in time to examine the creation of our current environment and the sustainability movement that brought us here.
The Beginning: 17th Century To Present Day
For centuries, mankind has been struggling to figure out how to live in harmony with one another while striving for individual freedom. In all this time, we have never stopped seeking ways to generate our own energy and become less reliant on fossil fuels, which are rapidly depleting around the world. Since the 17th century, various efforts have been made to harness the power of the sun and the wind to improve our lot as a species. In general, this pursuit can be described as “solar energy.”
On the surface, the challenges seem simple enough. The earth is the center of mass of the solar system, and therefore, it is the source of all solar energy. The only thing standing in the way of us being able to harness the energy of the sun is the fact that the sun doesn’t actually give itself to us freely. As you will see, it takes a little bit of trickery to get the most out of the solar system.
A Brief History Of Solar Energy
The 17th century saw the emergence of photovoltaics, also known as “solar power.” One of the first known uses of solar power was to generate electricity for homes and buildings. In the 1800s, the process of solar energy was largely used to pump water for agricultural purposes. In the early 1900s, the technology was used to power entire communities. The vast majority of the power was generated using silicon-based solar cells, which were originally developed for use in space. In the beginning, these cells were extremely expensive and fragile. The technology wasn’t refined enough to be used on earth yet, and the industry was still in its infancy.
Through the early 20th century, the technology for solar cells continued to evolve. The first practical photovoltaic cells were mass-produced, and the price dropped significantly. In the 1930s, the Great Depression made things a little simpler for people. The possibility of harnessing solar power and becoming less reliant on fossil fuels seemed too good to be true, and people were more than willing to try something new.
Around this time, the discovery of photovoltaic cells with efficiencies greater than 10% began to change everything. Scientists began to see the potential to integrate these cells into rooftop solar arrangements, so communities no longer needed to purchase power from large centralized stations. In the same way that electricity grids were established to provide a stable supply of power to homes and businesses, microgrids were developed to provide energy to cities. The ability to generate your own power became a viable alternative to traditional energy sources. The microgrid market boomed, and homeowners began pushing for solar energy systems on their roofs. The industry grew quickly, as did the number of installations.
While the technology of solar power started out as a way to generate energy for use on earth, the potential to do the same on the moon was soon realized. The moon is the ultimate test bed for any new technology, as it has no atmosphere to disturb and no water to leach. The moon is a more suitable location for research and development, as it is always exposed to the sun, which provides plenty of free energy.
When we consider the economic, environmental, and social benefits of utilizing solar power, there is little wonder why so many people are excited about expanding the use of this technology into new areas.
One of the primary challenges in generating electricity on the moon is the low gravity. The pull of gravity is so low on the moon that anything weighs a lot less than it does on earth. This makes it much easier to generate electrical energy. For example, the diameter of a circle that an object of one gram would travel in is only six centimeters, compared to the thirty centimeters it would take to reach the same speed at earth’s gravity.)
The low gravity of the moon also makes it much easier to move large objects. This becomes important when considering how many solar panels will be needed to generate adequate amounts of energy. The mass of a circle that an object one meter in diameter would travel in is only six kilograms, compared to the one hundred and eighty kilograms it would take in earth’s gravity. This is why the size and number of solar panels needed to generate usable amounts of electricity on the moon are substantially less than the same sized array would require on earth. (Though not always the case, as there are other factors to consider such as local weather conditions and the efficiency of the panels themselves.)
Where Do We Go From Here?
There have been a number of advancements in solar energy in the last hundred years, but still, the majority of the population relies on traditional forms of power for their everyday needs. The cost of solar power is still too high for the average person, and the technology is not as refined as one would hope it to be. The good news is that we are constantly gaining new knowledge about how to make these systems more efficient, more affordable, and more environmentally friendly. The future looks very promising for solar energy.