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 starting in the 1950s with work at Bell Labs and the US efforts to respond to the Soviet launch of Sputnik.
Experimenting with metal electrodes and electrolyte, nineteen-year-old French physicist Alexandre Edmond Becquerel observes a physical phenomenon allowing light-electricity conversion
Charles Fritts, an American inventor, describes the first solar cells made from selenium wafers
Edward Weston receives first US patent for "solar cell"
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."
Albert Einstein publishes paper on theory behind “photoelectric effect” along with paper on relativity theory
Robert Millikan provided experimental proof of Einstein's theory on photoelectric effect
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.
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."
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.
PV array powers radios on US Vanguard I space satellite
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.
NASA launches Orbiting Astronomical Observatory with a 1-kilowatt PV array
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
Solarex Corp is founded by two ex-NASA scientists who worked on the development of satellite PV systems
Japan formulates “Project Sunshine” to fuel PV research and development
Kyocera Corp begins production of Silicon ribbon crystal solar modules
US Dept. of Energy establishes US Solar Energy Research Institute in Golden, CO
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.
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
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
Japan begins "70,000 Solar Roofs" PV subsidy program
California initiates $112MM “Emerging Renewables Program” to fund rebates for <30 kW residential and commercial PV systems
CA Public Utilities Commission begins $100MM “Self Generation Incentive Program” for >30 kW PV projects
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
The CA PUC demonstrates leadership by outlining what will become the California Solar Initiative (CSI), a 10-year, $3 billion solar subsidy program.
The CSI program begins and is well received by the market, with higher than expected application volume.
Global Markets & Global Impacts
Global Financial Crisis temporarily slows solar demand, resulting in over-supply and falling prices
Chinese manufacturers expand solar cell and module manufacturing creating added global price pressure
US reaches 1 million solar installations
First dedicated solar panel recylcing plant opens in France
Apple, Amazon, Target, and Wal-Mart top the list of US corporate solar users
Battery storage paired with ~10% of residential solar offerign homeowners with limited duration backup power
Worldwide installed capacity of solar power has reached 1 terawatt
Your company joins the fast-growing list of California business leaders who adopt solar power for their business with Sunlight Electric