Photovoltaics may be more practical for long stays on Mars thanks to today’s light, flexible solar panels.
According to new research by scientists at the University of California, Berkeley, the high efficiency, lightweight, and flexibility of the current solar cell technology means photovoltaics could provide all the electricity needed for a protracted expedition to Mars, or even for a permanent settlement on the Red Planet.
Most scientists and engineers who have considered the logistics of living on the surface of Mars have assumed that nuclear power is the best option, owing in large part to its reliability and 24/7 operation. Miniaturized Kilopower nuclear fission reactors have improved over the last decade to the point where NASA considers them to be a safe, efficient, and plentiful source of energy, as well as a key to future robotic and human exploration.
Solar power, on the other hand, must be stored for use at night, which lasts about the same length of time on Mars as it does on Earth. And the persistent red dust that covers everything on Mars can limit the power production of solar panels. After a massive dust storm on Mars in 2019, NASA’s almost 15-year-old Opportunity rover, which was powered by solar panels, stopped working.