September 4, 2013

The Evolution of Solar Panels

The idea of harnessing the sun's power reaches as far back as the 7th Century BC; when civilizations began using magnifying glasses and mirrors to refocus light to make fires.

In the 3rd Century BC, the Ancient Greeks began designing homes that would utilize the sun’s rays for warmth, thus decreasing their over-dependence on firewood. Taking notice to these innovations, the Romans began making glass windows to farther retain warmth from sunlight.

Archimedes in the 2nd century BC is rumored to have used the refracted light from bronze shields to burn down enemy ships.

It wasn’t until 1767 that mankind began to see solar energy in our modern context; when Swiss scientist Horace de Saussure created the first solar collector.

From there the evolution of solar technology begins to bloom and the far-reaching dreams of harnessing the sun's power becomes possible;

  • 1839- The photovoltaic effect is discovered by French scientist Edmond Becquerel while experimenting with an electrolytic cell.
  • 1860s- French mathematician August Mouchet and his assistant, Abel Pifre, constructed the first solar powered engines, which became the precursor for the modern parabolic dish collector.
  • 1883- Charles Fritts described the first solar cells made from selenium wafers.
  • 1905- Albert Einstein published his paper on the photoelectric effect along with his theory of relativity and later in 1921 wins the Nobel Prize for his theories explaining the photoelectric effect.
  • 1954- Daryl Chapin, Calvin Fuller, and Gerald Pearson create the first solar cell capable of powering everyday electrical equipment- the silicon photovoltaic cell.
  • 1959- Hoffman Electronics achieves 10% efficiency and photovoltaic cells become commercially available.
  • 1964- NASA has begun utilizing solar as their primary source of power; they launched the first Nimbus spacecraft, powered by a 40-watt photovoltaic array.
  • 1970s- The Exxon Corporation helps design new solar cells that bring the price of solar cells down from $100 a watt to $20 a watt.
  • 1977- The U.S. Department of Energy launches the Solar Energy Research institute “National Renewable Energy Laboratory”, a federal facility dedicated to harnessing power from the sun.
  • 1979- President Jimmy Carter had 32 solar panels installed on the White House, during a large-scale energy crisis.
  • 1981- President Ronald Regan had the solar panels removed, believing that free market consumption would better fuel the country.
  • 1991- President George H.W. Bush directs the U.S. Department of Energy to establish the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.
  • 1994- The National Renewable Energy Laboratory develops a solar cell made from gallium indium phosphide and gallium arsenide- becomes the first to exceed 30% conversion efficiency.
  • 1997- SunPower’s high efficiency solar cells power NASA’s Pathfinder, an unmanned, remotely piloted solar-powered, high altitude aircraft.
  • 1999- The total worldwide installed photovoltaic power reached 1000 megawatts.
  • 2000- At the international space station, astronauts begin installing solar panels into what will be the largest solar power array deployed in space.
  • 2007- SunPower breaks the record for 22.4% solar cell efficiency.
  • 2010- President Obama in his state of the union address claims that by 2035, 80% of America’s electricity will come from clean energy sources.
  • 2013- This week the white house begins installing between 20 and 50 solar panels on their roof as part of their plan to increase the federal government's energy efficiency.

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