History of Solar Energy

The photovoltaic effect started to attract scientific attention when Albert Einstein wrote his 1905 paper on the photoelectric effect: "On a Heuristic Viewpoint Concerning the Production and Transformation of Light".

Bell Laboratories, while working on silicon semiconductors in the 1950's, discovered silicon had photoelectric properties and quickly developed Si solar cells, achieving 6% efficiency. Early satellites were the primary use for these first solar cells.

175 Years of Photovoltaic solar energy Technology

The “photovoltaic effect”, the ability of sunlight to excite the flow of electrons (electricity) was first discovered more than 175 years ago. Here is a summary of the first 175 years of humans discovery and use of photovoltaic technology.

Experimenting with metal electrodes and electrolyte, nineteen-year-old French physicist Alexandre Edmond Becquerel observes a physical phenomenon allowing light-electricity conversion.


Charles Fritts, an American inventor, describes the first solar cells made from selenium wafers.


Edward Weston receives first US patent for "solar cell".


Nikola Tesla receives US patent for "method of utilizing, and apparatus for the utilization of, radiant energy".


Albert Einstein publishes paper on theory behind the “photoelectric effect”. Old Albert had a pretty good year by anyone's standards also publishing that year another somewhat important scientific paper known as the “theory of relativity” (e=mc2).


Robert Millikan did an experiment Einstein’s theory on photoelectric effect.


Einstein wins Nobel prize for 1905 paper on the photoelectric effect.


Bell Labs exhibits first high-power silicon PV cell. The New York Times forecasts that solar cells will eventually lead to a source of "limitless energy of the sun".


Sharp Corporation produces a viable photovoltaic module of silicon solar cells. Japan installs a 242-watt PV array on a lighthouse, the world's largest array at that time.


NASA launches Orbiting Astronomical Observatory with a 1-kilowatt PV array.


Research drives PV costs down 80%, allowing for applications such as offshore navigation warning lights and horns lighthouses, railroad crossings, and remote use where utility-grid connections are too costly.


Kyocera Corp begins production of Silicon ribbon crystal solar modules.


US Dept. of Energy establishes US Solar Energy Research Institute in Golden, CO. This organisation is now NREL, the National Renewable Energy Laboratories.


Germany launches $500MM “100,000 Solar Roofs” program. In the humble opinion of this Solar Reviews writer it was this German subsidy program that was pivotal in the development of a viable residential solar industry. The German's spent the hard money when solar panels were still very expensive.


Japan begins "70,000 Solar Roofs" PV subsidy program.


The CA PUC launches the California Solar Initiative (CSI), a 10-year, $3 billion solar subsidy program.


The CSI program begins and is well received by the market, with higher than expected application volume.


The Energy Policy Act of 2005 (P.L. 109-58) created a 30 percent investment tax credit (ITC) for commercial and residential solar energy systems that applied from January 1, 2006 through December 31, 2007. These credits were extended for one additional year in December 2006 by the Tax Relief and Health Care Act of 2006 (P.L. 109-432). In 2007, global investment in clean energy topped $100 billion, with solar energy as the leading clean energy technology for venture capital and private equity investment. The solar tax credits helped to create unprecedented growth in the U.S. solar industry from 2006-2007. The amount of solar electric capacity installed in 2007 was double the capacity installed in 2006.  The Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008 (P.L. 110-343) included an eight-year extension of the commercial and residential solar ITC, eliminated the monetary cap for residential solar electric installations, and permitted utilities and companies paying the alternative minimum tax (AMT) to qualify for the credit. In 2009, under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (P.L. 111-5), the $2,000 credit cap on solar hot water installations was eliminated. This 30% Federal Tax credit was renewed until 2016.


The cost of PV modules falls from approximately $5 per watt to the magical $1 per watt level fuelled mainly by continuing strong subsidies in Germany and new subsidy programs in Spain, Italy and Australia.


Chinese manufacturing companies began to build large automated solar cell and solar module production factories that further reduced the cost of modules down towards $.70 per watt


Residential solar installations became cost effective for average american households and in 2015 more residential solar power is installed in the US in over 18 months than in all the cumulative history prior to this.


The Tesla Motor Company announced its intention to launch a lithium ion battery storage product at a price point that would make it economic for ordinary American householders to store solar power generated during the day for use at night.

May 2015

The US Congress passed an 8 year extension to the 30% Federal Income Tax Credit ensuring the continued growth in the adoption of photovoltaic solar power systems in America.

December 2015

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