The Japanese construction and engineering company Shimizu has released a plan to ring the moon’s equator with a 248-mile wide solar panel belt that would, in effect, turn the moon into a minor sun — supplementing solar energy to a planet in need.
As if taken directly from a science-fiction novel, the introduction of the report reads, “a shift from economical use of limited resources to the unlimited use of clean energy is the ultimate dream of all mankind.”
And it is of sci-fi proportions indeed — according to Shimuzu, the belt, which would beam energy back to earth via antennas 12 miles in diameter, could generate the colossal sum of 13,000 terrawatts of energy. The U.S. generated 4,500 terawatts in 2011.
Germany is the world leader in solar power, with 32.3 gigawatts installed as of December 2012. In the U.S. solar power growth is on pace for a record year, with 4,400 megawatts of photovoltaic (PV) and over 900 megawatts of concentrating solar power (CSP) projected to come online this year. Currently five countries have reached the 10-gigawatt milestone for cumulative PV capacity — Germany, Italy, China, Japan, and the US.
Shimuzu proposes building most of the solar belt with robots and using lunar resources as much as possible in construction process. For example, the company says water can be produced by reducing lunar soil with hydrogen imported from earth, and that, “bricks, glass fibers and other structural materials can be produced by solar-heat treatments.” The company proposes to start building the Luna Ring in 2035.
Shimuzu is known for shooting for the moon with projects, and has previously come up with concepts including an environmental island, a pyramid city, and a space hotel. Regarding the solar belt, the company says that, “virtually inexhaustible, nonpolluting solar energy is the ultimate source of green energy,” that could fulfill all of our energy needs.
Not everyone is convinced. Professor Werner Hofer, director of the Stephenson Institute for Renewable Energy at the University of Liverpool, told The Independent that, “Doing this in space is not a good idea because it is fantastically expensive and you probably never recover the energy you have to invest.”
Beaming power back to earth from space is a complex, expensive, and mostly untested realm. Other challenges to the project include maintenance and upkeep, a hostile space environment that degrades panels faster, and the on-the-ground costs of building the infrastructure required to transmit the energy.
Back on earth, solar energy is soaring in Japan even without harnessing the moon’s infinite resources. Recent projections show Japan’s solar power market growing 350 percent from 2012 to 2013.
According to Bloomberg New Energy Finance, Japan is projected to add more solar energy generation than any other country this year. The Japanese government has a target of installing 28 gigawatts of solar by 2020.
In a small step backward for mankind, however, last month Japan announced it was slashing its 2020 greenhouse gas emissions reductions target from 25 percent to just 3.8 percent based on 2005 figures. The country’s previous commitment, set in 2009, sought to reduce emissions 25 percent by 2020 from 1990 levels. Officials blamed the lowered target on the Fukushima nuclear disaster in 2011 that caused the country to temporarily abandon all nuclear power. This is also part of the reason why solar power is growing so rapidly in Japan.