62 years ago, the invention of modern solar cells forever changed the face of renewable resources. Today, that same solar cell is powering buildings, cars, and even towns across the globe. Here’s the who, what, when, where and how of solar panel invention.
Who and When
Several important individuals can be credited for the invention and creation of solar panels.
- French physicist Antoine-Cesar Becquerel first began solar panel research in 1839. During his experimentation, Becquerel was able to see the photovoltaic effects after he dipped a solid electrode into an electrolyte solution. He also witnessed more voltage develop after the electrode was subjected to sunlight.
- Charles Fritts built the first genuine solar cell in 1883.
- Russell Ohl first created the silicon solar cell in 1941. With just one-percent energy conservation, this first solar cell was extremely inefficient.
- American researchers at Bell Labs - Gerald Pearson, Calvin Fuller, and David Chapin - improved on this efficiency in 1954, after creating a solar panel that had the efficiency level of six-percent. They later pushed the conversion efficiency to 14-percent in 1960.
- In the early 1970’s Dr. Elliot Berman designed a low-cost solar cell that spurred the era of commercial viability. Using a lower-grade silicon and cheaper housings, Berman was able to bring the cost of solar panels down from $100 per watt to $20 per watt. For the next few decades, scientists discovered more about how solar energy works.
What, Where, and How
These solar pioneers and many others like them contributed greatly to the inception of solar panel technology. What many individuals wonder, though, is why the solar industry took such a long time before becoming a relevant source of energy.
Perhaps the biggest problem that hindered advances in solar mechanical technology was society’s preoccupation during the industrial revolution in the use and transportation of fossil fuels. With oil and coal companies running a massive infrastructure and stable market with substantial supplies, many skeptics had a hard time seeing solar as something more than simply a scientific curiosity.
Similarly, solar energy and other renewable energy resources that could act as alternatives to the finite fuel supply did not fit with the U.S. political or social agenda. Finally, when members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) started flexing their economic power, the U.S. went into an 'energy crisis' which spurred a serious interest in energy efficiency and renewable resources.
By the mid-1980s contemporary solar pioneers found that solar panels in the form of tracking parabolic troughs were most effective in sunny areas because they offered superior cost-to-power ratios. A decade later, the first grid-supported photovoltaic system was completed and installed in Kerman California by Pacific Gas & Electric.
Today solar power has continued to experience a huge surge in popularity. Homeowners across the globe can now afford solar-panel installation, businesses can maintain 100% 'green' sustainability, and vehicles can travel hundreds of miles from the power of the sun. Without the genius minds of individuals from 177 years ago, we wouldn’t have the innovative solar-power technology we do today.