Jessica PirroJuly 31, 20201920
Solar panels have evolved over since the first discovery of the sun's solar energy, even since the first solar cell was created. If you want to understand how solar panels have evolved, you are going to want to do a deep dive into the history of the solar power industry.
The Photovoltaic Effect
When it comes to the photovoltaic effect you would be surprised at how far back it dates. In definition, the photovoltaic effect is the reaction of voltage and electric current inside a solar cell exposed to sunlight. The solar cell process generates the movement of electrons to solar panels, that convert the sunlight to solar power.
In 1839, a 19-year old French scientist Edmond Becquerel discovered the photovoltaic effect. In the process of discovery, he found the photochemical reactions, he began to understand the absorption of energy in the form of light, which led to his discovery of the photovoltaic effect. In the late 1860s, Becquerel published his findings and he found that “the voltage of the cell increased when its silver plates were exposed to the sunlight.”
The next step towards solar power was in 1873, when Willoughby Smith, who was an engineer from England, was the first to discover the photoconductivity, or the capability to conduct electricity based on the light intensity, of selenium while testing underwater telegraph cables. Then another decade later, Charles Fritts, who was an American inventor, created the first solar cells from selenium. He started by putting a thin, wide layer of selenium onto a metal plate and then covered it with a semitransparent gold-leaf film to create the fist photoelectric module. Fritts generated a current and noted that it was a continuous current despite the intensity of light. At the time, Fritts predicted that the photoelectric plat might one day compete with coal-fired electrical generation.
In a certain way, a lot of physicists played a part in solar cell invention. Becquerel us attributed to uncovering the potential of the photovoltaic effect, and then it was Fritz who got the credit with actually creating the solar cells.
Solar Panels: A Viable Energy Alternative?
In 1970, there was an oil shortage brought awareness of U.S. dependency on foreign energy resources. There was a time in the United States where the inflation was higher and residents were economically squeezed, along with a shortage in essentials made the need for further innovation glaringly evident.
This was all during the time that president Jimmy Carter had a solar panel installation added to the White House rooftop. This was a statement that made renewable energy through solar panels more tangible for people and to spread awareness.
Now even more people are interested in solar panels with the growing popularity of solar panels in recent decades. As the solar panels are constantly improving the efficiency the cost is dropping, solar panels have become a lot more realistic way for people to generate electricity for their homes.
The Efficiency and Cost of Solar Panels Over the Years
Solar cells have improved since the start of the solar power industry. In the early days of solar panels, there was a 1% solar panel efficiency and the cost of solar panels was around $300 per watt. Whereas, at that time, coal cost around $2 to $3 per watt to generate electricity.
Then in 1954 Bell Labs’ silicon solar cells were operating around 4% solar panel efficiency and then later achieved 11% solar panel efficiency. This was a significant increase that enabled powering an electric device for several hours for the very first time in history.
The next solar panel development was in 1959, Hoffman Electronics achieved 10% solar panel efficiency. Very soon after, they beat their record with 14% solar panel efficiency in 1960.
These solar panel efficiency upgrades have helped push solar pales into the space program. The use of solar panels in space increased in the 1960s increased production and slowly the price reduced to around $100.
Then in the 1970s, Exxon funded Dr. Elliot Berman’s research produced a less expensive solar cell and brought the cost of solar panels down to around $20 per watt.
Currently, the average solar panel efficiency is going to be around 15-20%, and then you can find the cost of solar panels as low as $0.50 per watt.
Major Events in The Solar Power Industry in the United States
- First residential solar panel installation - in 1973, the University of Delaware was the first solar building, named “Solar One. The solar power system ran on a hybrid supply of bother thermal solar power and photovoltaic solar panels. This was also the very first instance of building-integrated photovoltaics (BIPV) - the solar power system, didn’t use solar panels but instead has solar cells integrated into the rooftop, very similar to Tesla’s new roof product.
- Solar Power Airplanes - In 1981, Paul MacCready builds the Solar Challenger, which was the very first aircraft to run on solar power, and then flew it across the English Channel from France to the U.K. than in 1998, the remote-controlled solar airplane called the Pathfinder set an altitude record after it reached 80,000 feet. Then in 2001, NASA broke the record when they reached 96,000 feet with their aircraft. Then in 2016, Bertrand Piccard completed the very first zero-emissions flight around the world with Solar Impulse 2, the world’s largest and most powerful solar power airplane.
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