Japanese firm looks to solar power from the moon

Given Japan's well-documented recent energy problems, new attention is being focused on a revolutionary plan to construct a belt of solar panels 400 km wide around the equator of the moon and send the energy that is generated back to Earth in the form of laser-guided microwaves.

The proposal was first dreamed up last year by Shimizu Corp., one of Japan's "Big Three" construction firms, and is being put forward as a potential future source of vast amounts of clean energy.

In recent years, Japan has increasingly relied on nuclear energy to power its homes and industry, but after the catastrophic March 11 earthquake and tsunami, which destroyed the Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear plant, the government and companies here have expressed their commitment to developing alternatives.

Named the Luna Ring, the scheme has the potential to provide enough energy to power the entire planet and Shimizu's scientists believe construction work could get under way as early as 2035.

Given sufficient funding - which Shimizu's experts are reluctant to precisely estimate - robots would exploit the moon's natural resources and produce the concrete, solar cells and other elements required for the project.

Construction facilities would stretch around the equator of Earth's nearest galactic neighbor to build the vast solar energy farm, with microwave transfer facilities located at intervals to ensure the constant provision of receivers on Earth.

Once completed, Shimzu estimates the solar cells would provide 17 billion tons of oil-equivalent energy.

Japan is already one of the leading producers of high-end solar panels, through companies such as Kyocera Corp., and even before March 11 had passed legislation to help cover the cost of installing solar panels on residential units. Those incentives are likely to be stepped up in the wake of the worst natural disaster in living memory in Japan and the ongoing problems at the Fukushima nuclear plant.

Solar power is also increasingly appealing to the Japanese public, who are equally keen to secure alternative sources of energy to nuclear power. Those include tapping into the potential of wind, wave and geothermal energy.

A video on the proposal can be seen at http://www.shimz.co.jp/english/theme/dream/lunaring-mv.html