How practical is it to manufacture solar cells on the Moon? I understand there is a lot of silica there, and in theory if we could robotically make and deploy solar cells on the Moon, then we would (in time) have practically unbounded energy to use there.
There are parts that would be easy, and parts that would be quite difficult. Here is a video that shows you how solar cells are made on Earth.
Here's a few things you need:
- A very high efficiency clean room.
- Wafer manufacturing capabilities
- Etching equipment
- Diffusing equipment
- Metal inlaying
Bottom line is, this is very large and difficult equipment. It would probably not work very well. What are some alternatives? The best alternative would be to make mirrors, which in turn heat a substance, like water, and runs like any turbine engine runs. Wikipedia has a nice photo of one of these on Earth.
Mirrors, especially non-precision mirrors, would be relatively easy to manufacture on the moon. Aluminum and silicon are quite plentiful, the two key elements to making mirrors. The turbines might be difficult to manufacture on the Moon (I really don't know about this one), but they could be brought from Earth, reducing the weight significantly vs the solar panels that would be required to make this system work via direct transport from Earth.