History of Photovoltaic Systems
The history of PV's dates back to 1839 and major developments evolved as
- 1839: Nineteen-year-old
Edmund Becquerel, a French experimental physicist, discovered the
photovoltaic effect while experimenting with an electrolytic cell made up of
two metal electrodes.
- 1873: Willoughby Smith
discovered the photoconductivity of selenium.
- 1876: Adams and Day observed
the photovoltaic effect in solid selenium.
- 1883: Charles Fritts, an
American inventor, described the first solar cells made from selenium
- 1887: Heinrich Hertz
discovered that ultraviolet light altered the lowest voltage capable of
causing a spark to jump between two metal electrodes.
- 1904: Hallwachs discovered
that a combination of copper and cuprous oxide was photosensitive. Einstein
published his paper on the photoelectric effect.
- 1914: The existence of a
barrier layer in PV devices was reported.
- 1916: Millikan provided
experimental proof of the photoelectric effect.
- 1918: Polish scientist
Czochralski developed a way to grow single-crystal silicon.
- 1923: Albert Einstein
received the Nobel Prize for his theories explaining the photoelectric
- 1951: A grown p-n junction
enabled the production of a single-crystal cell of germanium.
- 1954: The PV effect in Cd
was reported; primary work was performed by Rappaport, Loferski and Jenny at
RCA. Bell Labs researchers Pearson, Chapin, and Fuller reported their
discovery of 4.5% efficient silicon solar cells; this was raised to 6% only
a few months later (by a work team including Mort Prince).
- 1957: Hoffman Electronics
achieved 8% efficient cells. "Solar Energy Converting Apparatus,"
patent #2,780,765, was issued to Chapin, Fuller, and Pearson, AT&T.
- 1958: Hoffman Electronics
achieved 9% efficient PV cells. Vanguard I, the first PV-powered satellite,
was launched in cooperation with the U.S. Signal Corp. The satellite power
system operated for 8 years.
- 1959: Hoffman Electronics
achieved 10% efficient, commercially available PV cells and demonstrated the
use of a grid contact to significantly reduce series resistance. Explorer-6
was launched with a PV array of 9600 cells, each only 1 cm x 2 cm.
- 1960: Hoffman Electronics
achieved 14% efficient PV cells.
- 1961: The UN conference on
Solar Energy in the Developing World was held. The precursor to the PV
Specialists Conference, the Meeting of the Solar Working Group (SWG) of the
Interservice Group for Flight Vehicle Power, was held in Philadelphia,
Pennsylvania. The first PV Specialists Conference was held in Washington,
- 1963: Japan installed a
242-W PV array on a lighthouse, the world's largest array at that time.
- 1964: The Nimbus spacecraft
was launched with a 470-W PV array.
- 1965: Peter Glaser, A.D.
Little, conceived the idea of a satellite solar power station. Tyco Labs
developed the edge-defined, film-fed growth (EFG) process, first to grow
crystal sapphire ribbons and then silicon.
- 1966: The Orbiting
Astronomical Observatory was launched with a 1-kW PV array.
- 1968: The OVI-13 satellite
was launched with two CdS panels.
- 1972: The French install a
CdS PV system in a village school in Niger to run an educational TV.
- 1974: Japan formulated
Project Sunshine. Tyco Labs grew the first EFG, 1-inch-wide ribbon by an
- 1975: The U.S. government
began a terrestrial PV research and development project, assigned to the Jet
Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), as a result of recommendations of the Cherry
Hill Conference. Bill Yerkes opened Solar Technology International. Exxon
opened Solar Power Corporation. JPL instituted the Block I procurement by
the U.S. government.
- 1977: The Solar Energy
Research Institute (SERI), later to become the National Renewable Energy
Laboratory (NREL), opened in Golden, Colorado. Total PV manufacturing
production exceeded 500 kW.
- 1979: Solenergy was founded.
NASA's Lewis Research Center (LeRC) completed a 3.5-kW system on the Papago
Indian Reservation in Schuchuli, Arizona; this was the world's first village
PV system. NASA's LeRC completed an 1.8-kW array for AID, in Tangaye, Upper
Volta, and later increased power output to 3.6 kW.
- 1981: A 90.4-kW PV system
was dedicated at Lovington Square Shopping Center (New Mexico) using Solar
Power Corp. modules. A 97.6-kW PV system was dedicated at Beverly High
School in Beverly, Massachusetts, using Solar Power Corp. modules. An 8-kW
PV-powered (Mobil Solar), reverse-osmosis desalination facility was
dedicated in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.
- 1982: Worldwide PV
production exceeded 9.3 MW. Solarex dedicated its 'PV Breeder' production
facility in Frederick, Maryland, with its roof-integrated 200-kW array. ARCO
Solar's Hisperia, California, 1-MW PV plant went on line with modules on 108
- 1983: The JPL Block V
procurement was begun. Solar Power Corporation completed the
installation of four stand-alone PV village power systems in Hammam Biadha,
Tunesia (a 29-kW village power system, a 1.5-kW residential system, and two
1.5-kW irrigation/pumping systems). Solar Design Associates completed the
stand-alone, 4-kW (Mobil Solar), Hudson River Valley home. Worldwide PV
production exceeded 21.3 MW, and sales exceeded $250 million.
- 1984: The IEEE Morris N.
Liebmann Award was presented to Drs. David Carlson and Christopher Wronski
at the 17th Photovoltaic Specialists Conference, "for crucial
contributions to the use of amorphous silicon in low-cost, high-performance
photovoltaic solar cells."