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History of Photovoltaics

History of Photovoltaics
160 Years of Photovoltaic Technology
Most people are surprised to learn that photovoltaic technology actually dates back over 160 years. The basic science was first discovered in 1839 but the pace of advancement really accelerated in three major thrusts in the 20th century.

1839

Experimenting with metal electrodes and electrolyte, nineteen-year-old French physicist Alexandre Edmond Becquerel observes a physical phenomenon allowing light-electricity conversion

1883

Charles Fritts, an American inventor, describes the first solar cells made from selenium wafers

1888

Edward Weston receives first US patent for "solar cell"

1901

Nikola Tesla receives US patent for "method of utilizing, and apparatus for the utlization of, radiant energy"

 

Albert Einstein Makes His Mark

It wasn't until Albert Einstein wrote his 1905 paper on the photoelectric effect: "On a Heuristic Viewpoint Concerning the Production and Transformation of Light".

1905

Albert Einstein publishes paper on theory behind “photoelectric effect” along with paper on relativity theory

1916

Robert Millikan provided experimental proof of Einstein’s theory on photoelectric effect

1922

Einstein wins Nobel prize for 1904 paper on photoelectric effect

 

The Commercial Solar Age Begins

Bell Laboratories, while working on silicon semiconductors, discovered silicon had photoelectric properties and quickly developed Si solar cells, achieving 6% efficiency and early satellites were the primary use for these first solar cells.

1954

Bell Labs exhibits first high-power silicon PV cell. The New York Times forcasts that solar cells will eventually lead to a source of "limitless energy of the sun".

1955

Western Electric sells commercial licenses for silicon PV technologies; early successful products include PV-powered dollar bill changers and devices that decoded computer punch cards and tape.

1958

PV array powers radios on US Vanguard I space satellite

1963

Sharp Corporation produces a viable photovoltaic module of silicon solar cells. Japan installs a 242-watt PV array on a lighthouse, the world's largest array at that time.

1966

NASA launches Orbiting Astronomical Observatory with a 1-kilowatt PV array

1970s

Research drives PV costs down 80%, allowing for applications such as offshore navigation warning lights and horns lighthouses, railroad crossings, and remote use where utility-grid connections are too costly

1973

Solarex Corp is founded by two ex-NASA scientists who worked on the development of satellite PV systems

1974

Japan formulates “Project Sunshine” to fuel PV research and development

1976

Kyocera Corp begins production of Silicon ribbon crystal solar modules

1977

US Dept. of Energy establishes US Solar Energy Research Institute in Golden, CO

1980s

Continued improvements in efficiency and cost enables PV to become a popular power source for consumer electronic devices, such as calculators, watches, radios, lanterns and other small battery charging applications

 

Progressive Governments Use Subsidies to Speed Adoption

To spur adoption, Germany and then Japan initiated considerable subsidy programs and now those markets exist largely without subsidies. In 2007, California leads the US with a similar 10-year program.

1990

Germany launches $500MM “100,000 Solar Roofs” program. The Cathedral of Magdeburg installs solar cells on the roof, marking the first installation on a church in East Germany

1991

President George H. W. Bush directs the U.S. Department of Energy to estalish the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (transerring the existing Solar Energy Research Institute) in Sandia, NM

1994

Japan begins "70,000 Solar Roofs" PV subsidy program

1998

California initiates $112MM “Emerging Renewables Program” to fund rebates for <30 kW residential and commercial PV systems

2002

CA Public Utilities Commission begins $100MM “Self Generation Incentive Program” for >30 kW PV projects

2004

Five manufacturers — Sharp, Kyocera, Shell Solar, BP Solar and RWE SCHOTT Solar — account for 60 percent of the PV market. GE buys Astropower, the last remaining US independent PV manufacturer

2006

The CA PUC demonstrates leadership by outlining what will become the California Solar Initiative (CSI), a 10-year, $3 billion solar subsidy program.

2007

The CSI program begins and is well received by the market, with higher than expected application volume.

2008

Your company joins the fast-growing list of California business leaders who adopt solar power for their business with Sunlight Electric.

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