Utne Blogs > Science and Technology

Sustainable Energy Among the Stars

by Will Wlizlo

Tags: moon, alternative energy, sustainable energy, solar power, Shimizu, science and technology, The Futurist, Will Wlizlo,


“That’s no moon. It’s a space station.” — Obi-Wan Kenobi, A New Hope 

With peak oil right around the corner, coal mines turning our lungs and mountaintops black, tar sands oil extraction exacerbating conservation efforts, and natural gas production still totally fracked, earthlings need a creative new source of alternative energy. Leave that to Shimizu, a forward-thinking Japanese construction company. The firm has a bold plan for the future of energy production: to build a ring of solar panels around the equator of earth’s moon.

No, seriously—despite what it sounds like, this isn’t a scheme lifted from a pulp sci-fi novel. Dubbing the project LUNA RING, the company imagines a robotic staff building and maintaining an array of photovoltaic panels that span the circumference of the moon. The harvested energy would then be shot back to earth using high-powered microwaves or lasers.

According to The Futurist’s profile of LUNA RING, the moon’s surface continuously receives 13,000 terawatts of solar power, or about “650 times the amount of power the entire human population would need to continue to grow economically.” What’s more, “Solar collection on the lunar surface would be 10 times more efficient than it is on Earth, where our ozone and rich atmosphere make solar collection less efficient.”

Of course, government budgets are under the knife right now. “A project of such size and scope would require the willingness of hundreds of millions of souls to re-embrace government-funded space programs,” writes The Futurist. “It would require sacrifice in the form of higher taxes, cuts in other areas, or both. At present, this seems beyond the capacity of the developed world.” Finding funding for such an astronomically bold idea would be next to impossible, but as the article points out, “we said the same thing about reaching the Moon.”


Source: The Futurist 

Images courtesy of Shimizu. 


erik swenson
6/8/2011 4:18:37 PM

This approach will never be cost effective, even if you could do it with some amazing robot that self-replicates itself on the Moon and then constructs all the necessary facilities on the moon with materials the robots manage to mine from the moon. Why? Because, while the Moon pretty much points its same face at the Earth all the time, the Earth is constantly rotating with respect to the Moon. So, any power generated on the moon could not be beamed to a single location on the Earth. Instead, at least three receiver stations would have to be built, each receiving power for 8 hours out of each 24. To cover the other 16 hours of the day backup generation would be required. Moreover, the power would be delivered to the receiver most nearly in line with the Moon, which has no particilar relationship with where there is demand for power at any given moment. For example, for about two weeks of each four, the power would be being delivered to the night side of the earth, where power demand is generally lowest. There is plenty of room on the face of the earth to collect solar power. If we get those "magic robots", they could build 10 times the collectors on Earth to make up for atmospheric losses and the collectors could be distributed in a way that is much easier to integrate with the power grid. The three primary issues for solar power are the need for storage, the need for transmission and the cost. Moon power doesn't solve any of them.

joel house
5/25/2011 2:16:42 PM

Ring around the moon? The dark side too? High powered lasers aimed at earth? I'm feeling wobbly already. Point it at Japan, they're used to it. Have it engineered by GE while your at it. See the short vid "5000" suns, you don't need to go to the moon to make heat or electrical energy. In the quest for free energy for the world, this ain't it.