Photovoltaics (PV) has a long history of taking the concept of solar energy to completion, given that solar energy has created an emerging and developed position in today’s renewable energy economy. And if the cost of solar has dropped significantly over the past decade, it’s worth noting that even 15 years ago, going solar had a different connotation.
Examine the development of solar energy technologies by going back many decades to the beginnings of solar photovoltaic (PV) technology.
The Invention of Photovoltaic and Solar Panels
This type of technology evolved in stages, needing input from a wide range of scientists. Instinctively, there were some debates over why they were invented and who could be credited with them.
According to others, French physicist Edmond Becquerel invented the solar cell. When two metal electrodes were put in a conducting solution, he discovered that illumination could improve electricity generation. This discovery, known as the “photovoltaic effect,” inspired subsequent developments in selenium-based photovoltaic technology.
Willoughby Smith found photoconductive properties in selenium in 1873, which led to William Grylls Adams and Richard Evans Day discovering that selenium produces electricity when exposed to light in 1876.
Some historians credit Charles Fritts with inventing solar cells using selenium wafers a few years later in 1883, which is why some historians credit Fritts with the invention of solar cells.
These solar cells are made of silicon, not selenium, as we know it today. As a result, others assume that the silicon photovoltaic (PV) cell designed by Daryl Chapin, Gerald Pearson, and Calvin Fuller at Bell Labs in 1954, was the original invention of solar panels.
Many claimed that this is the true beginning of photovoltaic science since it was the first project to use solar technology to fuel an electric device for several hours during the day. The first silicon solar cell had a conversion efficiency of just 4%, which was less than a quarter of modern cells.
Solar Energy Significance Over Time
Solar Panels in Space
Any of the early uses of solar science were in space where it was used to power satellites. In 1958, the satellite radios of Vanguard I were powered by a tiny one-watt panel. The Vanguard II and Explorer III, as well as the Sputnik-3, were launched later that year. They were both outfitted with photovoltaic systems.
In 1964, NASA launched the first Nimbus spacecraft, a satellite that could run entirely on a 470-watt solar array. In 1966, NASA launched the first orbiting astronomical observatory in the world. This place was powered by a one-kilowatt array.
Solar, thermal, and photovoltaic energies are combined to fuel the device. That was also the first time building-integrated photovoltaics were used (BIPV). However, unlike Tesla’s latest roof product, this array did not use solar panels and instead incorporated solar into the rooftop.
Hoffman Electronics made many breakthroughs in photovoltaic performance between 1957 and 1960, raising the energy-efficient record from 8% to 14%. In 1985, the University of South Wales reached a 20 percent efficiency score for silicon cells, a notable achievement.
Furthermore, in 1999, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and SpectroLab Inc. created a 33.3 percent efficient solar cell. In 2016, researchers based in a University in South Wales set a new standard for productivity by reaching 34.5 percent.
Solar to the Sky
The remote-controlled solar-powered airplane “Pathfinder” set an altitude record in 1998 after reaching 80,000 feet. In 2001, NASA broke the record by flying to a height of 96,000 feet without using rockets. In 2016, pioneers performed the first-ever zero-emissions circumnavigation of the globe on Solar Impulse 2, the world’s most visible and capable solar-powered airplane at the time.
During his administration, President Jimmy Carter installed solar panels on the White House in 1979. In 1981, however, President Ronald Reagan ordered the solar panels in the White House to be removed. After that, in 2010, President Barack Obama demanded solar panels and a solar water heater for the White House. President Barack Obama was nominated both during his first term.
Solar energy rates have declined dramatically over the past few decades, resulting in a considerable rise in consumer demand, with over one million solar installations in the US as of early 2016. In 1956, solar panels cost about $300 per watt.
By 1975, the cost per watt had fallen to just over $100. Solar panels are now available for less than $0.50 per watt. Consider this: since 1980, the cost of producing solar panels has declined by at least 10% every year. Solar panels’ rising success and photovoltaic (PV) legitimacy as a feasible alternative in today’s world are primarily due to their declining prices.