Japanese scientists shoot for the moon in ambitious solar-energy plan - Today's news, tomorrow's lesson - 29 November

You could blame it on the sunshine. You could blame it on the moonlight. Either way, enough energy could be generated to light up the world’s dance floors, according to a Japanese company.


Japanese scientists shoot for the moon in ambitious solar-energy plan

Today's news, tomorrow's lesson - 29 November


Photograph: iStock

By Adi Bloom

You could blame it on the sunshine. You could blame it on the moonlight. Either way, enough energy could be generated to light up the world’s dance floors, according to a Japanese company.

Tokyo-based Shimizu is planning to set up a giant belt of solar panels around the moon’s equator, creating what it claims will be a “virtually inexhaustible, non-polluting source of energy”.

This is not solar lunacy, the company insists. The Luna Ring would run around the moon’s 6,800-mile equator. Initially, it would be only a few miles wide, but it could expand to a width of 250 miles.

The belt would be constructed by robots that would be operated by workers based on Earth. To reduce construction costs, Shimizu aims to manufacture the belt primarily using lunar resources. Moon soil would be mixed with imported gravel to create cement.

The solar energy collected would be sent back to earth as microwaves, which would then be converted into electricity. The lack of cloud cover would mean that the solar panels were constantly exposed to the sun, creating enough energy for all of Japan – and potentially the whole planet – to bask in moonlight.

Shimizu believes that the Luna Ring could generate 13,000 terawatts of energy. By contrast, the US generated only 4,100 terawatts of power during 2011. The Sizewell B nuclear power station in Suffolk, England, produces 1,198 megawatts a year (a terawatt is equal to 1 million megawatts).

“Virtually inexhaustible, non-polluting solar energy is the ultimate source of green energy, that brings prosperity to nature as well as our lives,” Shimizu said of the proposal on its website.

Japan has developed a recent enthusiasm for renewable energy. The country shut down its 50 nuclear reactors following an earthquake and tsunami in March 2011. The natural disaster triggered a meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant: the worst nuclear incident since the Chernobyl disaster in Ukraine in 1986.

Before the earthquake, nuclear reactors had been the source of almost a third of Japan’s electricity. Since 2011, the country has become increasingly keen to find alternative sources of energy. Its last functioning nuclear reactor was shut down in September this year.

“A shift from economical use of limited resources to the unlimited use of clean energy is the ultimate dream of all mankind,” Shimizu said.

The company plans to have a pilot demonstration in place by 2020, and for construction of the belt to begin in 2035. Nasa, the US space agency, has been investigating space-based solar systems for decades.




Questions

  1. What is renewable energy? Can you think of some different types?
  2. Why is it important to find new ways to power our homes and cars?
  3. This project would be very expensive to carry out. Do you think it is money well spent?
  4. What can we do to reduce the amount of energy we use?

 


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