Timeline of solar power
This is a timeline of solar power, listing imporant events in the development of technologies harnessing solar power.
|Time period||Development summary|
|Ancient history||Humans are known to have used solar power since ancient times. In the Roman Empire, solar architecture was used to heat bathhouses. Humans have also been concentrating the sun’s energy with mirrors or magnifying glasses for more than 1,300 years.|
|19th century||Solar power technology begins after Edmond Becquerel discovers that some materials produce electricity when exposed to light. William Grylls Adams and his student use selenium to create electricity from light, creating the world’s first photovoltaic power source.|
|20th century||The era of modern solar cell technology begins in the 1950s when G.L. Pearson, D. Shapin and C. Fuller demonstrate a silicon solar cell capable of 6% energy conversion efficiency with direct sunlight. In the 1970s, as oil prices rise, demand for solar power increases, and research drives costs down. By the early 1990s, solar technology enters a truly marketable level of efficiency.|
|21st century||As of 2017, global solar photovoltaic power generating capacity rose to nearly 400 gigawatts by year-end, a 32% increase versus the end of 2016. Capacity has nearly quadrupled in the past five years. China is the major producer. Other important producers of are United States, Japan, Germany and Italy.|
|7th century BC||Solar energy already used by humans in the 7th century B.C. in the form of using sunlight to light fires with magnifying glass materials.|
|3rd century BC||Greeks and Romans are known to harness solar power with mirrors to light torches for religious ceremonies. These mirrors become a normalized tool referred to as “burning mirrors.”|
|20 AD||The Chinese civilization documents the use of mirrors for the same purpose like those used by Greeks and Romans.||China|
|Late 1700s – 1800s||Researchers and scientists have success using sunlight to power ovens for long voyages. They also harness the power of the sun to produce solar-powered steam boats.|
|1839||French physicist Edmond Becquerel first discovers the photovoltaic effect. This process occurs when light is absorbed by a material and creates electrical voltage. Most modern solar cells use silicon crystals to attain this effect.||France|
|1873||Scientific development||English electrical engineer Willoughby Smith discovers that selenium has photoconductive potential.||United Kingdom|
|1876||Scientific development||British physicist William Grylls Adams and Richard Evans Day discover that selenium creates electricity when exposed to sunlight.|
|1877||Literature||American scientists William Adams and Richard Day publish The action of light on selenium.||United States|
|1883||Technology||American inventor Charles Fritts produces the first solar cells made from selenium wafers. Fritts coats selenium with a thin layer of gold. This cell achieves an energy conversion rate of 1–2% (most modern solar cells work at an efficiency of 15–20%).||United States|
|1887||Scientific development||German physicist Heinrich Hertz first observes the photoelectric effect, where light is used to free electrons from a solid surface (usually metal) to create power. Hertz finds this process produces more power when exposed to ultraviolet light, rather than more intense visible light. Albert Einstein later receives the Nobel Prize for further explaining the effect. Modern-day solar cells rely on the photoelectric effect to convert sunlight into power.||Germany|
|1888||Technology||American chemist Edward Weston receives the first US Patent for solar cell.||United States|
|1888 – 1891||Technology||Russian physicist Aleksandr Stoletov develops the first solar cell using the outer photoelectric effect.|
|1902||Scientific development||German physicist Philipp Lenard observes that the energy of individual emitted electrons increases with the frequency (which is related to the colour) of the light.||Germany|
|1904||Technology||German physicist Wilhelm Hallwachs develops a semiconductor-junction solar cell.||Germany|
|1905||Scientific development||Albert Einstein publishes his theory of “photoelectric effect”.|
|1914||Scientific development||American scientists Goldman and Brodsky become the first to correlate the photoelectric effect with the existence of a barrier to current flow at a semiconductor-metal interface. This work proves to be a key insight to building practical photovoltaic devices.||United States|
|1918||Technology||Polish chemist Jan Czochralski invents the Czochralski process, which is used for growing single crystals and in the production of semiconductor wafers.||Germany|
|1922||Albert Einstein receives Nobel Prizes in Physics for his photoelectric effect theory.|
|1932||Scientific development||Stora and Audobert discover cadmium selenide, a photovoltaic material.|
|1941||Technology||American engineer Russell Ohl invents the solar cell, shortly after the invention of the transistor.||United States|
|1954||Technology||Daryl Chapin, Calvin Fuller, and Gerald Pearson at Bell Labs create the silicon photovoltaic (PV) cell. Many argue that this event marks the true invention of PV technology because it is the first instance of a solar technology that could actually power an electric device for several hours of a day.||United States|
|1956||Technology||American company Western Electric begins selling commercial licenses for its silicon PV technologies. However, the prohibitive costs of silicon solar cells keep them from widespread market saturation.||United States|
|1956||Cost||Solar panels cost roughly US$300 per watt.|
|1957 – 1960||Technology||Hoffman Electronics makes a number of breakthroughs with photovoltaic efficiency, improving the efficiency record from 8% to 14%.|
|1958||Solar energy is used in space. The Vanguard I satellite uses a tiny one-watt panel to power its radios. Later that year the Vanguard II, Explorer 3 and Sputnik 3 are all launched with PV technology on board.|
|1959||Technology||Hoffman Electronics achieves 10% efficient, commercially available PV cells and demonstrates the use of a grid contact to significantly reduce series resistance.|
|1960||Technology||Hoffman Electronics develops a new solar cell with fourteen percent efficiency.|
|1960||Technology||The idea of bifacial photovoltaic modules is independently developed by Japanese scientist H. Mori and Russian scientists A.K. Zaitseva and O.P. Fedoseeva. These bifacial photovoltaic modules have two active surfaces and thus have the potencial to generate more electric energy with roughly the same size collector.|
|1961||Technology||American physicist William Shockley and German physicist Hans-Joachim Queisser become the first to define the maximum theoretical efficiency of a solar cell using a single p–n junction to collect electricity from the cell. The Shockley-Queisser limit is fundamental to direct solar energy conversion.|
|1961||The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) holds its first specialty conference on photovoltaic energy in Philadelphia.||United States|
|1963||Technology||Japanese multinational Sharp Corporation manufactures a feasible photovoltaic module of silicon solar cells.|
|1964||Technology||NASA launches the first Nimbus spacecraft, a satellite able to run entirely on a 470 watt solar array.||United States|
|1964||Literature||American physical chemist Farrington Daniels publishes Direct Use of the Sun's Energy.||United States|
|1966||Technology||NASA launches the world’s first Orbiting Astronomical Observatory, powered by a one-kilowatt array.|
|1967||Technology||Russian Soyuz 1 becomes the first manned spacecraft to be powered by solar cells.|
|1968||Technology||Robert Riehl introduces his solar-powered wristwatch.|
|1968||Czechoslovakian-born American scientist Peter Glaser presents the concept for the Solar power Satellite (SPS) system to supply power from space for use on Earth.||United States|
|1970||Technology||Soviet team led by Zhores Alferov develops the first highly effective GaAs heterostructure solar cells.||Soviet Union|
|1973||Technology||The University of Delaware constructs the first solar building, named “Solar One.” The system runs on a hybrid supply of solar thermal and solar PV power. It is also the first instance of building integrated photovoltaics (BIPV).||United States|
|1974||Organization||The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) is established in the United States.||United States|
|1974||Program||Japan launches the "Project Sunshine", a broad R&D program in solar energy. The goal is to produce new sources of clean energy by the year 2000.||Japan|
|1975||Cost||Solar panels cost drops to just over US$100 a watt.|
|1975||Organization||The Florida Solar Energy Center (FSEC) is established as the state's energy research institute. FSEC later becomes a world leader in solar energy research.||United States|
|1976||Technology||The idea of fluorescent photovoltaic cell is independently developed by German scientists Adolf Goetzberger and W. Greubel, and W.H. Weber and J. Lamb.|
|1976||Technology||American engineers David Carlson and Christopher R. Wronski invent the hydrogenated amorphous silicon solar cell.||United States|
|1978||Technology||The first solar-powered calculator is released.|
|1979||United States President Jimmy Carter has solar panels installed on the White House during his term as president.||United States|
|1980<||Cost||Solar panel prices starts dropping by at least 10 percent every single year. The plummeting cost of solar is largely responsible for the growing popularity of solar and the legitimacy of photovoltaics as a reliable energy source in today’s world.|
|1981||Paul MacCready builds Solar Challenger, the first aircraft to run on solar power, and flies it across the English Channel from France to Britain.|
|1982||Facility||Arco Solar builds the first solar park (basically a solar power plant) in Hesperia, California.||United States|
|1985||Technology||The University of South Wales achieves 20% photovoltaic efficiency for silicon cells.||Australia|
|1985||Organization||SunPower Corporation is established by Richard Swanson to develop and commercialize cost-effective, high-efficiency photovoltaic power systems based on the "all-back contact" cell design.||United States|
|1986||Technology||ARCO Solar releases the G-4000, the world's first commercial thin-film photovoltaic module.|
|1989||Technology||Reflective solar concentrators are first applied with solar cells.|
|1991||Technology||The first efficient photo electrochemical cell and the dye-sensitized solar cell are developed.|
|1992||Technology||The University of South Florida creates a 15.89 percent efficient thin-film cell.||United States|
|1994||Technology||The U.S. National Renewable Energy Laboratory develops a new solar cell from gallium indium phosphide and gallium arsenide that exceeds 30% conversion efficiency.||United States|
|1994||Program||Japan starts “70,000 Solar Roofs” PV subsidy program, to increase the use of photovoltaic system in the residential sector.||Japan|
|1995||Technology||Thomas Faludy files a patent for a retractable awning with integrated solar cells. This is one of the first times solar cells are used in recreational vehicles. Later, this feature would become a popular way to power RVs.|
|1998||Technology||The remote-controlled solar airplane “Pathfinder” sets an altitude record after reaching 80,000 feet.|
|1999||Technology||The U.S. National Renewable Energy Laboratory creates thin-film solar cells that convert 32% of the sunlight it collects into usable energy.||United States|
|2000||Technology||Sandia Laboratories invents the modern inverter, which converts the direct current (DC) produced by solar panels to alternating current (AC), the standard for homes in the United States.||United States|
|2001||NASA breaks record when reaching 96,000 feet with its solar-powered non-rocket aircraft.|
|2005||Technology||DIY solar panels are released. These would become more prevalent with each new year.|
|2006||Technology||Solar cell surpass the 40 percent efficiency.|
|2007||Program||Google launches in the United States the Project Sunroof, with aim at helping homeowners explore whether they should go solar, offering solar estimates for over 43 million houses across 42 states.||United States|
|2008||Technology||The inverted metamorphic triple-junction solar cell is developed.|
|2015||Technology||Solar cells as thin as paper are manufactured using an industrial printer. These have 20% power conversion efficiency, and a single strip can produce up to 50 watts per square meter.|
|2016||Technology||Researchers at the University of South Wales reach 34.5% photovoltaic efficiency.||Australia|
|2016||Bertrand Piccard completes the first zero-emissions flight around the world with Solar Impulse 2, the world’s largest and most powerful solar-powered airplane to date.|
|2016||Scientific development||A research team from the University of California, Berkeley, and the Australian National University discover nanomaterial property called magnetic hyperbolic dispersion, which means the material glows when heated. If combined with thermophotovoltaic cells, it could turn heat into electricity without the need for sunlight.||United States, Australia|
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