Timeline of solar power

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This is a timeline of solar power, listing imporant events in the development of technologies harnessing solar power.

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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.[1]
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.[1]
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.[2][3] In the 1970s, as oil prices rise, demand for solar power increases, and research drives costs down.[4] By the early 1990s, solar technology enters a truly marketable level of efficiency.[1]
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.[5]

Full timeline

Year Event type Details Location
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.[6]
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.”[6]
20 AD The Chinese civilization documents the use of mirrors for the same purpose like those used by Greeks and Romans.[6] 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.[6]
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.[4][7] France
1873 Scientific development English electrical engineer Willoughby Smith discovers that selenium has photoconductive potential.[8][9][10][6][4] United Kingdom
1876 Scientific development British physicist William Grylls Adams and Richard Evans Day discover that selenium creates electricity when exposed to sunlight.[6][3]
1877 Literature American scientists William Adams and Richard Day publish The action of light on selenium.[11] United States
1883 Technology American inventor Charles Fritts produces the first solar cells made from selenium wafers.[6] 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%).[4] 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.[4] Germany
1888 Technology American chemist Edward Weston receives the first US Patent for solar cell.[11] United States
1888 – 1891 Technology Russian physicist Aleksandr Stoletov develops the first solar cell using the outer photoelectric effect.[11]
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.[12] Germany
1904 Technology German physicist Wilhelm Hallwachs develops a semiconductor-junction solar cell.[11] Germany
1905 Scientific development Albert Einstein publishes his theory of “photoelectric effect”.[11]
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.[13] 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.[14][15][16] Germany
1922 Albert Einstein receives Nobel Prizes in Physics for his photoelectric effect theory.[11]
1932 Scientific development Stora and Audobert discover cadmium selenide, a photovoltaic material.[11][13]
1941 Technology American engineer Russell Ohl invents the solar cell, shortly after the invention of the transistor.[2][17][18][7] 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.[6] 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.[4] United States
1956 Cost Solar panels cost roughly US$300 per watt.[6]
1957 – 1960 Technology Hoffman Electronics makes a number of breakthroughs with photovoltaic efficiency, improving the efficiency record from 8% to 14%.[6]
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.[6][4][4]
1959 Technology Hoffman Electronics achieves 10% efficient, commercially available PV cells and demonstrates the use of a grid contact to significantly reduce series resistance.[13]
1960 Technology Hoffman Electronics develops a new solar cell with fourteen percent efficiency.[11][19][20][21]
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.[13]
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.[13]
1961 The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) holds its first specialty conference on photovoltaic energy in Philadelphia.[13] United States
1963 Technology Japanese multinational Sharp Corporation manufactures a feasible photovoltaic module of silicon solar cells.[11]
1964 Technology NASA launches the first Nimbus spacecraft, a satellite able to run entirely on a 470 watt solar array.[6][22][23] United States
1964 Literature American physical chemist Farrington Daniels publishes Direct Use of the Sun's Energy.[24] United States
1966 Technology NASA launches the world’s first Orbiting Astronomical Observatory, powered by a one-kilowatt array.[6]
1967 Technology Russian Soyuz 1 becomes the first manned spacecraft to be powered by solar cells.[13]
1968 Technology Robert Riehl introduces his solar-powered wristwatch.[25]
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.[13] United States
1970 Technology Soviet team led by Zhores Alferov develops the first highly effective GaAs heterostructure solar cells.[26][27][28][29] 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).[6][30][31] United States
1974 Organization The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) is established in the United States.[32][33] 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.[34][35][36] Japan
1975 Cost Solar panels cost drops to just over US$100 a watt.[6]
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.[13] 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.[13]
1976 Technology American engineers David Carlson and Christopher R. Wronski invent the hydrogenated amorphous silicon solar cell.[13] United States
1978 Technology The first solar-powered calculator is released.[37][38][39][40]
1979 United States President Jimmy Carter has solar panels installed on the White House during his term as president.[6] 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.[6]
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.[6]
1982 Facility Arco Solar builds the first solar park (basically a solar power plant) in Hesperia, California.[4] United States
1985 Technology The University of South Wales achieves 20% photovoltaic efficiency for silicon cells.[6] 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.[13] United States
1986 Technology ARCO Solar releases the G-4000, the world's first commercial thin-film photovoltaic module.[13]
1989 Technology Reflective solar concentrators are first applied with solar cells.[11]
1991 Technology The first efficient photo electrochemical cell and the dye-sensitized solar cell are developed.[11]
1992 Technology The University of South Florida creates a 15.89 percent efficient thin-film cell.[11] 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.[4] United States
1994 Program Japan starts “70,000 Solar Roofs” PV subsidy program, to increase the use of photovoltaic system in the residential sector.[41][42][43] 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.[4]
1998 Technology The remote-controlled solar airplane “Pathfinder” sets an altitude record after reaching 80,000 feet.[6][44][45][46]
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.[6][4] 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.[1] United States
2001 NASA breaks record when reaching 96,000 feet with its solar-powered non-rocket aircraft.[6]
2005 Technology DIY solar panels are released. These would become more prevalent with each new year.[4][3]
2006 Technology Solar cell surpass the 40 percent efficiency.[11]
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.[47][48][49] United States
2008 Technology The inverted metamorphic triple-junction solar cell is developed.[11]
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.[4]
2016 Technology Researchers at the University of South Wales reach 34.5% photovoltaic efficiency.[6] 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.[6]
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.[4] United States, Australia

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References

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