With both NASA and the private sector turning their attention to the moon again, people are starting to try to find ways to monetize such an effort. Ideas range from lunar mining to space tourism. But, as Forbes reports, a Houston physicist is touring his decades-long idea of turning the moon into a giant solar power station for Earth.

Space solar power is the idea of building Solar Collectors in geosynchronous orbit. They would gather sunlight using solar panels and beam the energy via microwaves to a collector on the Earth’s surface which, in turn, would pump electricity into the grid.

Unlike ground-based solar power, the space-based variety would operate 24/7 as the orbiting power stations would constantly be exposed to the sun. There would be no need for elaborate electrical storage devices.

Dr. David Criswell, formerly of the University of Houston, would deploy those solar collectors on the moon. The advantage of this arrangement is that the moon has all the materials needed to build several hundred square kilometers of solar panels along with the hardware to beam the power back to Earth and support infrastructure. Criswell estimates that the project would cost several hundred billion dollars, but would generate $200 billion in profit while delivering 20 terawatts of energy to Earth, enough to satisfy all of its power needs by the middle of this century.

With private companies such as SpaceX and Blue Origin mulling a return to the Moon and Moon Express preparing to mine the Lunar Surface for resources, moon based solar power represents another business opportunity that Earth’s nearest neighbor represents. Someone is going to try to put Criswell’s plan into reality.

Mind, Earth is not likely to allow itself to be entirely dependent on any one form of electrical generation.

Even in the fossil fuel economy, we have coal, natural gas, nuclear, as well as renewables such as solar, wind, and hydroelectric. But moon based solar power could become part of a new mix of energy sources that would also include renewables, natural gas, nuclear, and perhaps fusion energy (the latter maybe fueled with helium 3 mined from the moon.)

It looks like the moon will be the key to the transformation of the Earth’s energy economy.