The solar panels on the Moon idea

The great thing about this idea is that it’s entirely achievable:

A Japanese construction firm is proposing to solve the well-documented energy problems facing Japan – and ultimately the entire planet – by turning the moon into a colossal solar power plant.

Tokyo-based Shimizu Corp. wants to lay a belt of solar panels 250 miles wide around the equator of our orbiting neighbour and then relay the constant supply of energy to “receiving stations” on Earth by way of lasers or microwave transmission.

The “Luna Ring” that is being proposed would be capable of sending 13,000 terawatts of power to Earth. Throughout the whole of 2011, it points out, the United States only generated 4,100 terawatts of power.

Please note that I don’t say that it will necessarily be economic but it could certainly be built.

25 comments on “The solar panels on the Moon idea

  1. So is a manned mission to Alpha Centauri, in the sense of “does not violate any laws of physics”. Achievable in the sense of “feasible”, that’s another matter.

  2. How do you get the energy from the moon to the earth? A 13000 terawatt laser (UV? IR? visible?) is a very dangerous thing if it goes off target…

  3. “A 13000 terawatt laser (UV? IR? visible?) is a very dangerous thing if it goes off target…”

    Whoops, sorry about that China!

  4. What powers the lasers?

    sounds too much like one of those perpetual energy machines that politicians believe exist when you shout loudly three times in a regional tv interview!

  5. That’s right – destroy the Lunar ecosystem why don’t you. having destroyed our own eco-system we’re out to destroy another one. No, the right thing to do is to cut down on energy usage, move to sustainable energy production and to put on extra jumpers. Besides, think of the moon’s polar bears.

    On the other hand, how about some nice lunar wind turbines?

    Tim adds: What’s really amusing is that you could run wind turbines up there. The near vacuum would mean that the solar wind would turn them quite nicely.

  6. ProgContra – “On the other hand, how about some nice lunar wind turbines?”

    Hey, no way! That is my idea. We should export our excess CO2 (and presumably import a lot more from Venus) to the Moon. Enough and it would form a stable atmosphere as the Greenhouse effect would ensure that it did not get too cold and so freeze.

    But with half the planet getting the full force of the sun and the other half being about -200 C, there would be a fairly powerful wind as the hot air raced around the Moon to the cold side.

    Set up some wind turbines and you could generate a fair bit of power. Might look pretty impressive from Earth as well.

  7. How do you get the energy from the moon to the earth? A 13000 terawatt laser (UV? IR? visible?) is a very dangerous thing if it goes off target…

    Studies of these sort of things usually look at microwaves. As they are less damaging, as far as we know, than lasers. And it is not too hard to make sure they do little damage if they wander.

    The idea is old enough that there is an Isaac Asimov story about some robots who decide that humans are God’s mistake, and they are His real First Born, but lucky for humanity they decide that what God wants them to do is keep their microwave power transmitter focused exactly on the Earth.

    But it would still be more efficient to build nuclear power plants on the Moon.

  8. It’s a bit hard to understand why you’d want to do this.
    If you’ve that sort of capability for building stuff on the moon, a mass driver* should be well within reach. So you can source the raw materials for a solar farm from the lunar surface & cheaply boost them to an orbit. Now you’ve your electricity generation happening where sunlight is constant rather than losing production for 14 days at a time# And in a geostationary orbit so it’s constantly over the energy collection array on earth.
    But they’re Japanese. Who knows?

    * Mass driver= electro-magnetic railgun. Like a catapult to accelerate an object to high velocities. Works best in vacuum.
    #Surprising how many people don’t realise the moon revolves. There ain’t no ‘dark side’. Just the nights & days take a month to go round.

  9. SMfS is a very clever boy!
    But you don’t need an atmosphere. A simple pipe would do & would work exactly the same way.
    Wonder if anyone else has thought of that?

  10. “Shimizu is reluctant to put a price tag on the construction costs involved”

    No shit

    “but, given adequate funding”

    Aha!

  11. Orbiting solar panels would be far cheaper to get in place, and far easier to beam the power down from. Jerry Pournelle has long been an advocate of this, and has been saying that the US had taken the money wasted on Iraq and invested in a more nuke plants they would have had the money to have them flying by now. He also postulates beaming down into the middle of an uninhabited desert, just in case the microwave beam goes a little off kilter.

  12. It’s also hard to understand why they’re insisting on going right round the equator. A much shorter, wider belt of tilted panel closer to one of the poles works just as well. And is 24/7 productive of power much quicker during the construction phase.
    Somehow, don’t think this idea is being floated by people know what they’re talking about. Must be a politician in it somewhere.

  13. I’m ignorant of these things, but aren’t there massive transmission losses in beaming energy around like that?

    Wonder if the 13,000 terrawatts is what they actually manage to get in usable form down here? Suspect it’s what could theoretically be generated up there, which is much less use.

    Otherwise it’s Rob’s huge extension lead and someone to run round the earth moving it as the moon goes round.

  14. ” massive transmission losses ”
    If I remember rightly, the beam divergence on a geostationary platform is about 100m. So let’s say it was a kilometer moon/earth. One km2 of receiver area is handling 13kW/m2. About what you’d want to avoid melting the receivers.

  15. Jerry Pournelle has long been an advocate of this, and has been saying that the US had taken the money wasted on Iraq and invested in a more nuke plants they would have had the money to have them flying by now.

    If one considers, as I do, that the money was spent to ensure the Saudi and Kuwaiti oilfields keep producing, it was a snip. Nuke plants are great, but they don’t keep planes in the air and cargo ships moving.

  16. The threat from Saddam Hussein was real, with the US Army – whose presence in Saudi Arabia was Osama bin Laden’s biggest gripe by far – being the only thing preventing any attack. Kuwait embarked on an enormous upgrade of their oilfields (which I took part in) as soon as Saddam Hussein was removed, something they’d never contemplated with him still in power.

  17. Shimizu Corporation is real?!? I thought it was a made-up company to represent the Private Sector in “High Frontier”, Phil Eklund’s board game about the industrialisation of space.

  18. This is Shimizu’s proposal (from 2009).

    The general idea seems to be to send a few robots up to the moon, and have them do all the mining, fabrication, and construction locally. If we’ve got robots that smart, why not send them out into deserts on earth and have them built solar arrays there? If we can prove that works, then it might be worth talking about transmitting power from the moon.

  19. Tim
    Solar wind on the moon is measured in nanoPascals. I doubt if that is enough to turn a kiddy toy let alone drive a turbine.

    Mining the Sky, by John S Lewis, is the one to read for background on these projects. Especially if you like your science bonkers and (sort of) realistic at the same time.

  20. Whoever built such an array would, literally, hold the high ground and control the mot devastating weapon ever built by man. Building in around the moon, with redundant control centres and laser/maser Tx sites would also render it pretty invulnerable to pre-emptive attack – unlike a concentrated polar site or geostationary satellite array.

    Just saying.

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