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Could solar panels on the moon power the Earth?
A Japanese company wants to install a ring of solar panels on the moon, providing a constant source of power to nuclear-traumatized Japan, and the rest of the planet. Would that work?
 
Japanese researchers are proposing a lunar belt of solar panels that would transmit the sun's power down to energy conversion facilities (bottom, center) on Earth.
Japanese researchers are proposing a lunar belt of solar panels that would transmit the sun's power down to energy conversion facilities (bottom, center) on Earth.

As Japan continues to struggle with the fallout of its Fukushima nuclear disaster, its government is steering the country's energy policy toward solar and other renewable sources. Some Japanese firms are being very aggressive in their application of that vision. Researchers at Shimizu Corp., a construction powerhouse, are proposing to build a 6,800-mile-long, 248-mile-wide ribbon of solar panels around the light side of the moon. The panels would beam enough energy back to Earth to power much of the globe. Is this a serious plan, and could it work? Here, a brief guide:

How would they build all those solar panels?
The Luna Ring would be built by astronauts and robots using materials found on the moon — water, concrete, and ceramics, primarily. Astronauts would first use robots to level the moon's cratered surface in the construction zone, and possibly build a railroad. Once built, the solar band would continuously transmit 13,000 terawatts of energy to receiving stations on Earth, through microwaves, lasers, or some other energy transfer mechanism.

What's the time frame?
Shimizu's "very optimistic forecast" has the project launching in 2035. It requires, among other things, getting humans back on the moon, and building bases for them to stay for the long haul. The final goal is turning the moon into "a gigantic mirrorball manned by robots," says Britain's Daily Mail, though astronauts would still be required to stay on the moon to manage the robot crews.

Is this at all realistic?
When you consider that all the technology basically exists already — photovoltaic panels, transmission beams, remote controlled robots, lunar ships — "Luna Ring seems not-so-far fetched," says Adrienne Crezo at Geeks Are Sexy. But when you consider the cost of a project "with such sweeping goals and in need of seemingly impossible resources," it would probably take a global effort. Sure, the project would benefit the entire Earth, but given that the story was promoted by the "not-particularly-reputable Daily Mail," says Max Read at Gawker, we'll take it seriously when it gets past the initial planning stage.

Sources: Shimizu, Daily Mail, Gawker, Geeks Are Sexy, Pune Mirror, Washington Post, A to Z Robotics

 

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