History of Solar Panels and Solar Energy
Posted on July 26 2019
History of Solar Panels and Solar Cells
To bring you up to speed with current solar panels, lets first understand why did we even need solar panels in the first place? In a short few words, the answer would be, alternative cheaper energy supply system. Energy, in one form or another, is one of the core economy-driving elements for any country. Electricity is a major energy source for thriving industries as well as growing GDP, and lack of electricity or its price hikes directly impacts a country's growth and product cost. With the global oil dependency and its cost predictions, people have always been looking for an alternative, inexpensive, a stable form of energy so that industries can keep growing and GDP expanding.
Solar panel for Americus 1995. via aeon
Preferably, a self-sustainable energy source without any dependence on the national grid has always an ideal choice for customers, so that people can rely on their own electricity production, be worry-free of the global fuel prices or energy demands. Amongst the many energy sources that are available naturally and known to humans, the sun is the most abundant energy-rich reservoir, and to tap into this reservoir and utilize it to fulfill our power needs, the idea of solar panels was brought into the market which has since then been playing a vital role in energy generation for individuals, industries, and governments.
First Inventors and Contributors to Photovoltaic (PV) Cell Theory
Contrary to popular belief, solar panels are not a recent invention. Conventional solar panels are made up of multiple PV cells put together. The idea of PV cells started way back in 1876. It was first discovered by William Grylls Adam with the help of his student, Richard Day, that when selenium was exposed to light, it produces electricity. However, later in 1883, Charles Fritts actually made the first-ever PV cell from selenium wafers, and that is the reason many accredit Fritts as the actual inventor of solar cells (solar panels).
William Grylls Adam (left). via airvision
At that time, these cells were not efficient enough to power any noteworthy electrical gadgets, however, it was demonstrated to the world that electricity can be generated from sunlight, without any heat or moving parts, and it was a big breakthrough. Yes, if you are thinking solar power and heat, then you are wrong, solar panels do not use the heat of the sun, rather the sunlight and its radiation are responsible for power generation.
Silicon Solar Cell - A Major Breakthrough
Fast forward to 1953, Calvin Fuller, a renowned physical chemist, along with his teammates Gerald Pearson and Daryl Chapin, invented the Silicon Solar Cell which operated at a mere 4% efficiency. This was a major breakthrough and today this technology can be found in about 95% solar panels in the market. These PV cells were far better and efficient than its predecessor and it could power a small electrical device. That marked the beginning of a new era for this technology; soon after, the first commercial solar panels were available in the market in 1956, however, its high cost of $300 per watt was far from the reach of a common customer.
Silicone Solar Panels. via azom
In the 1960s the primary costumers of solar panels were space agencies in the USA and USSR. It helped to reduce the lift-off weight; solar energy was already present in abundant in space, so there was no need to carry extra fuel and weight up in the space. However, it was in the early 1970s when the research was made into bringing down the cost of PV modules so that the general public could tap into this potentially enormous market. Today, after years of research and phenomenal growth in the market, the price has eventually reduced to $3 per watt and an efficiency of more than 20% is common with silicon solar panels. Over the years, the solar industry has seen a constant 10% decrease in the cost of solar cells annually., and one of the major reasons for the price drop has been the popularity and increased demand for solar panels.
Efficiency of Solar Panels
From 1957 to 1960, Hoffman electronics increased the efficiency of solar panels up to 14%, and in 1985 a laboratory in the University of South Wales achieved an impressive 20% efficiency for silicon-based cells. Later on, many researchers continued to work on the improvement of the efficiency of PV modules, and in 1999 and 2016 efficiencies up to 33.3% and 34.5% were achieved respectively, but this technology is still not commercial grade. Commercially and conventionally, these days most of our solar panels come with an efficiency of about 18% to 22%. Do you know about the top 10 most efficient solar panels?
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Uses of Solar Panels
Today we see solar panels in a variety of places: we use them to power entire homes, commercial plazas, and communities. Massive solar farms even contribute to the national grid. Solar Panels have proven to be extremely beneficial in far-away remote regions, where taking a grid line is not feasible, now even in deserts, people have easy access to water with solar-electric water-well pumps and more.
Solar Panels for household use. via ahs
We even have portable sized solar panels that you can take along with you on your outdoor adventures and power up your mobile devices, or just keep it at your home for some clean, green and free energy. The market also has pocket-sized solar cells to recharge your phone anytime anywhere. With the growing global concern of global warming and our huge dependency on polluting fossil fuel, humans are seeking innovative ways to reduce carbon footprint, and solar panels with its free, clean, and green energy are playing an important role in achieving these goals.