One of my favourite sites for green news, and for the idea of 20th century science fiction being realized in our 21st century, is Inhabitat.com. It hooks in perfectly with my interests in sustainability, technology, and being a lifelong sci-fi nerd.
Last year, they featured a story about a Japanese firm, The Shimizu Corporation (very Blade Runner style name, that …) that was allegedly planning on creating an enormous solar energy farm – on the moon and built by ROBOTS!
Here’s a snippet of that article:
The plan calls for a massive 12 mile-wide, 6,800 mile long “Luna Ring” of solar panels to be constructed on the moon’s surface. The solar belt would then harness solar power directly from the sun and then beam it straight to Earth via microwaves and lasers.
Shimizu Corporation’s plan would see 13,000 terawatts of continuous energy sent to receiving stations around the Earth, where it will be then distributed to the planet’s population. [Read the whole article]
This kind of story sets my sci-fi geek impulses all a-flutter. After years of watching Space: 1999 as a kid, I’ve always been fascinated by the idea of a human presence on the moon, without the possibility of that moon breaking orbit and being hurled out into space to go on adventures, of course.
Solar energy: outer space, or down to earth?
Something like this just reeks of human progress, and of the future in a very 20th century kind of way. This kind of thing is what the 21st century was supposed to be about, along with visions of jet packs for everyone.
Yet, at the same time, I wonder if huge projects like this and the money, effort, talent, time that something like this would take, might be better spent elsewhere and possibly in a more down-to-earth way (literally and figuratively).
It makes sense that the best minds in Japan would be set to thinking more about alternative energy on a pretty large scale. The tsunami disaster in coastal Japan which included damage to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, has set a lot of people to thinking about another way to provide power that is safer, and much cleaner. This makes sense – it’s logical. But, it raises a lot of questions, too.
Does this big shiny idea help or hinder?
A project on the scale of a moon base built by robots seems to be a rather futuristic vision of how to proceed with an alternative energy program in another sense – that it would happen (if at all) too far into the future. It’s a sexy idea. But, there is a certain amount of (whisper it) hubris attached to it, isn’t there?
In short, I’m not sure that futurism is really the same thing as the future. Actually, I know it isn’t.
It makes me wonder about a lot of other things, too. For instance, is it possible that big, shiny, and kind of wacko ideas like this one actually hurts the cause of progressive energy strategies, rather than help it? Is it a case of the average Joe/Jo reading about this cool, hot-rod-with-flames-on-the-side idea of green energy, coming away with the impression that it’s only the big, shiny ideas like this one that are progressive?
Let me put this another way. Can the underlying message that people take away from a story like this one be that all ideas for large-scale green energy must be measured by how big, ambitious, expensive, and kind of bonkers this idea is?
I wonder if slightly unsexier ideas than this one might not be more effective.
Solar energy and accessibility
As much as I love the idea of a real-live moonbase populated by robots straight out of Silent Running, I think what excites me more is the idea that solar energy, along with wind energy and geothermal energy, could become even more of a mainstream part of life in the 21st century. What if it could become as common as cable TV, indoor plumbing, the Internet, and any other elements that we now take as a given in any home, large or small, owned or rented, detached or condo?
Now, that’s exciting! And I think it’s possible without it being some futurist notion.
To me, we need to concentrate on making solar energy, and those other sources of clean alternative energy I listed, more accessible to everyday citizens. I think the core of that is by freeing up resources, and offering benefits in all kinds of ways, including financial ones for technology developers, and for homeowners and businesses who require clean energy.
Here’s something else. String me up for being a socialist pinko or whatever, but what if we created access to clean energy that allows houses and buildings to be more self-contained as far as energy use goes? What if we set up technology for households so that they’re not beholden to energy companies at all, whether those companies are burning fossil fuel, or arbitrarily metering solar energy from a giant moonbase maintained by robots on the moon ?
Just a thought. And maybe that’s as bonkers as robots on the moon, given our civilizations’ propensity to kill ideas that won’t make someone who currently holds wealth a bigger pile of cash than they already have at the end, like what happened with the use of hemp in the fuel industry.
What are your thoughts on Space: 1999 – er, I mean, solar energy on the moon?
When you click through to the article referenced above, make sure and read some of the comments below it from readers. There are some pretty salient points made there about how feasible this idea actually is. It should also be stated that at the time of this writing, I can’t personally find any follow-up articles or any indication of progress for this project beyond May 2011.
Kind of makes you go, “hmmm”, doesn’t it?
To find out more about the idea of extra-terrestrial solar power, investigate SpaceEnergy.com, which discusses the concept of space-based solar power (SBSP).
And speaking of salient points, feel free to tell me your own thoughts in our own comments section below.