A Timeline of Photovoltaic Technology

Solar panels in the Philippines are now becoming more prevalent. Its adoption is a good sign that the country is now on its way to utilizing renewable energy more and more. But now that it’s become increasingly common, it’s bound to pique the interest of some making them ask questions like: how does it all work, and how did it all begin? Of course, much like any other technology, the development of solar tech has evolved through the many years it’s been around. Photovoltaic technology – the foundation of solar panels – works by producing electric energy through solar cells by taking advantage of its flow of electrons.

It’s a deceptively simple solution to the seemingly difficult problem of harnessing the sun’s rays’energy. Read up about the evolution of this revolutionary technology that started – surprisingly – for as long as about 170 years ago.


Nineteen-year-old Edmond Becquerel, a French experimental physicist, discovered the photovoltaic effect while experimenting with an electrolytic cell made of two metal electrodes.


Willoughby Smith discovered selenium’s photoconductivity properties.


William Grylls Adams and his student Richard Evans Day discovered that electrical current could be started in selenium solely by exposing it to light, they felt confident that they had discovered something completely new.


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


German physicist Heinrich Hertz discovered that when ultraviolet is altered it produces the lowest voltage capable of causing a spark to jump between two metal electrodes.


Albert Einstein published a paper on theory behind the “photoelectric effect” alongside the paper on relativity theory.


Robert Millikan, an American physicist, provided experimental proof on the photoelectric effect based on Einstein’s theory.


Polish scientist Jan Czochralski developed a way to grow single-crystal silicon. This method was called the Czochralski process.


The commercial solar age begins. Bell Laboratories discovered silicon photoelectric properties and quickly developed Si solar cells. They put the first high-power silicon PV cell on exhibit, resulting in the New York Times forecasting that solar cells will eventually lead to a source of “limitless energy of the sun”.


Western Electric sells commercial licenses for silicon PV technologies. The first products that were successful include PV-powered dollar bill changer and devices that decode computer punch cards and tape.


PV array powers radios on the US Vanguard I space satellite.


Sharp Corporation produces viable photovoltaic module of silicon solar cells. Japan then 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.


Researches began to find ways on how to cut down the cost of PV. Their research paid off, reducing PV costs by 80% for applications like offshore navigation warning lights, railroad crossings, and remote use where utility-grid connections are too expensive.


Solarex Corp is founded by two ex-NASA scientists who worked on the development of satellite PV systems. The following year, Japan formulated “Project Sunshine” to search for PV innovations and development.


Kyocera Corp began to produce silicon ribbon crystal modules.


More and more research was conducted to continue the improvements and efficiency of PV so it will become a popular power source for consumer electronic devices like calculators, watches, radios, lanterns, and applications that require small batteries.


Germany, and eventually Japan, initiated subsidy programs and now those markets exist largely without subsidies. The “100,000 Solar Roofs” program was launched by Germany for $500M.


Japan began thee “70,000 Solar Roofs” PV subsidy program.


Over the last twenty years, the solar-cell industry has grown dramatically. Today, those who need power in remote areas no longer see solar power as a convenient luxury but consider them as an actual, renewable energy solution. Its use doesn’t end in the private sector, either. Since solar cells can produce cleaner and more efficient power than some (highly polluting) diesel generators, its advantages has pushed many commercial hubs worldwide to replace their generators with solar cells too.

As the Science magazine wrote: “If there is a dream solar technology, it is solar cells, a space-age electronic marvel at once the most sophisticated solar technology and the simplest, most environmentally benign source of electricity yet conceived.”

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