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Terrestrial solar powerSolar panels are rapidly becoming competitive with utility power for peak demand applications. They are already the technology of choice for power generation in remote locations all over the world, away from utility power lines. The raw materials involved in solar cell production are either very cheap (such as silicon and glass) or else they are used in very small quantities. Costs are primarily related to complex and inefficient manufacturing technologies and processes. As solar cell production ramps up, there may be opportunities for neural robotic systems to contribute to the low-cost manufacture of solar cells.
Some of the most competitive manufacturers of solar cells are:
Nanoparticulate titania solar cells offer the potential for extremely low material costs and low-energy, low-temperature fabrication processes. These cells are now manufactured by Sustainable Technologies International.
Energy from spacePossibly the most important product to be imported from outer space may be energy.
Compared to ground-based installations, solar panels in space have two major advantages. With continuous insolation, the overall power output per square meter of solar panel is much greater, and there is no need for batteries for power storage. Furthermore, with no forces of wind or weather to contend with, the construction can be much lighter. Solar panels might be deposited on plastic film weighing less than an ounce per square meter. Overall, studies have estimated that the mass of a solar satellite including structural elements might be as low as 0.2 pounds per square meter. A square meter of low mass thin film solar panels operating at a typical efficiency level of 12% will generate 1500 kwh of energy per year in space, which is about $60 worth. (That same square meter on the ground would only generate about $15 of electricity, and it would need to be much heavier.) With the cost of capital at 20% per year, space solar power can be competitive with electricity from coal and natural gas if the system cost (including launch) is less than $300 per square meter, which is to say $1500 per pound. These cost levels seem within the capabilities of the technologies which are planned for the near future. Possibly, an even more economically viable system could be build using mylar film reflectors and highly efficient Gallium-Arsenide concentrator cells.
More information on solar power from space can be found at these links:
There are tremendous engineering challenges in terms of stability and control of gossamer structures.