Moon Units

A Japanese company has proposed an outlandish idea to meet Earth’s future energy demands—a ring of solar panels around the lunar surface

| September-October 2011

  • moon-units

    © Shimizu Corporation

  • moon-units

The moon shines down on our rippling oceans and corn-studded fields, transmuting the sun’s fierce golden rays into its own pale, ethereal light. It’s beautiful and, to the Japanese construction firm Shimizu, it’s a giant electrical outlet.  

“The moon’s face receives 13,000 trillion watts (terawatts) of solar power continuously,” writes Patrick Tucker in The Futurist(May-June 2011). “This is 650 times the amount of power the entire human population would need.” Engineers at Shimizu have dreamed up a plan for harnessing this energy. It’s a large-scaled, seemingly inconceivable plan that involves remote-controlled robots building thousands of photovoltaic panels out of moon dirt, assembling the panels into a gigantic lunar girdle belt, and laser-beaming 220 terawatts of annually collected voltage toward Earth. The project is called LUNA RING, and is still very much in the conceptual stage. “But the LUNA RING is buildable,” claims Tucker, who met with Shimizu engineer Tetsuji Yoshia at company headquarters in Japan.  

Scientists have spent decades trying to figure out how to gather solar energy from outer space. Giant solar-absorbing satellites have been the main proposal, but the weight and bulk are prohibitive, along with the amount of expensive rocket fuel needed to shoot the giants into orbit. “So we chose the moon as a power station,” Yoshia explained to Tucker. “We already have a natural satellite.”  

The sunlight-soaked moon would be ideal for solar energy collection. The lunar surface is a pure vacuum free of Earth’s dense atmospheric shroud, “which interrupts the flow of solar power with varying day-night cycles, clouds, fog, rain, smoke, dust, and volcanic ash,” explains The Futurist.  

Ultimately, the main obstacle to LUNA RING is not technology but public support. A concept of this scale requires significant financial backing, consistent public interest, and no small measure of faith. There’s also the issue of the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, which declared celestial bodies territory-free. Any structure built on the moon would belong to all the nations of Earth—an unusual concept for us line-in-the-sand Earthlings. Minor considerations like cost and politics aside, with Earth’s natural resources depleting at heart-stopping rates, Criswell maintains that “solar power from the moon is our best shot at meeting future energy demands.”

cover-167-thumbHave something to say? Send a letter to This article first appeared in the September-October 2011 issue of Utne Reader.

9/25/2011 12:43:57 PM

This will never ever happen. New environmental groups will form ("Moon-viros") to "save the moon". Brad and Angelina will team up with Matt Damon, Bono and Sting to give their expert testimony against the project at the United Nations. Celebrities will come together to record a new protest song, e.g. "...we are the moon, we are the children...". Anti-globalization protesters will become "anti-solar systemization" protesters and will claim the Group of Eight countries are trying to exploit third-world planets. Conspiracy websites will form alleging the project is really creating a military death ray designed to destroy ________ (fill in the blank with one or more of the following: Iranians, black people, Russians, indigenous people, poor people, other). Native Americans will sue the federal government claiming the moon is sacred to their people. The Kennedy family will sue claiming it's bad for the environment, though it really be about their view of the moon from Martha's Vineyard. Al Gore will create yet another Powerpoint claiming the electricity beam sent back to earth will accelerate the melting of arctic sea ice. The Red States will support the project but the Blue States will be more skillful in obstructing it. UTNE Reader readers will deplore it and will display "Keep Your Hands Off My Moon!" bumper stickers. In the end, it won't matter whether this is feasible or even a good idea. It simply will not happen.

Jesse Hattabaugh
9/20/2011 5:58:40 PM

I've always wondered if you could build solar panels from minerals found on the moon. I'd be very interested to see how robots would run their own mines and factories. Furthermore; if you can build solar panels locally, can you build more robots and mining equipment as well. Does anyone else get a little nervous at the thought of sending self-replicating robots to the moon to build a giant laser to point at us?

steve eatenson
9/15/2011 11:46:04 AM

Very cool idea! I wonder how a laser beam could be focused on a spot on the earth to receive the energy while the moon constantly circulates around the earth. If it were a joint project between all nations able to contribute financial support, engineering innovation and manpower it just might work. Actually, womanpower might be better.

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