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Facts on Solar Power and It's History

Brief History - First there was the sun!

Photo Voltaic (PV) has been around for many years and without them we wouldn’t have explored space. These types of solar cells have been empowering satellites since the early fifties. Technology has now advanced to such an extent that solar panels are a mass produced product that have become an economically viable option for businesses and householders that are trying to generate their own electricity.

How it works

The PV effect was discovered in 1839, and is a phenomenon where certain materials produce an electric current when exposed to light

The solar cells that you see on calculators and solar panel powered road signs are called photovoltaic or PV cells.

Photo meaning "light" and Voltaic meaning "electricity”, and as the name implies, they convert light into electricity.

Photovoltaic cells are made of special materials called semiconductors such as Silicon.

When light strikes the cell, a certain portion of it is absorbed within the semiconductor material. This means that the energy of the absorbed light is transferred to the semiconductor. The energy knocks electrons loose, allowing them to flow freely.

This flow of electrons is an electric current. By placing metal contacts on the top and bottom of the PV cell, we can draw that current off and use the electricity produced.
This electricity produced in the PV Solar Panel as direct current or DC (as like a battery is DC).

This is then converted to alternating current or AC (The main in your house is AC) by an inverter.

The inverter is normally located in the loft or any other suitable location that is near as possible to the solar panels.

The AC current is then used in the home as required, reducing the amount of electricity you will buy from the national grid during the day.

If your Solar Panels produce more power than you are using, the surplus is then exported and sold back to the national grid. 

As a bonus the government have introduced a Feed in Tariff (FiT) scheme which will pay you an additional amount for each unit of electricity you produce, whether you use it or sell it.


1839 While experimenting with an electrolytic cell made up of two metal electrodes the 19 year old French experimental physicist Edmund Becquerel discovered the photovoltaic effect.
1873 Photoconductivity of selenium was discovered by Willoughby Smit
1876 The photovoltaic effect in solid selenium was observed by William Grylls Adams and his student Richard Evans Day.
1883 Charles Fritts, an American inventor, described the first solar cells made from selenium wafers.
1887 Heinrich Hertz discovered that ultraviolet light altered the lowest voltage capable of causing a spark to jump between two metal electrodes.
1894 Charles Fritts built the first large area solar cell by pressing a layer of selenium between ultra thin layers of gold.
1904 Hallwachs discovered that an amalgamation of copper and cuprous oxide was photosensitive.
1905 Einstein publishes his paper on the photoelectric effect.
1916 The American physicist Robert Millikan while not accepting Einstein’s theory on the photoelectric effect provided experimental proof of the photoelectric effect.
1918 The Czochralski process developed by the Polish scientist Jan Czochralski developed a way to grow single-crystal silicon.
1923 Albert Einstein received the Nobel Prize for his theories explaining the photoelectric effect.
1951 A grown p-n junction enabled the production of a single-crystal cell of germanium.
1954 Gerald Pearson, Calvin Fuller and Daryl Chapin invented the first sun energy battery by creating an array of silicon strips to capture the sun’s rays and convert them into an electrical current.
1954 Bell Labs announces the invention of the first modern silicon solar cell
1956 Bell System's demonstration of the type P rural carrier system was terminated after five months.
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 PV cells with a 10% efficiency was achieved by Hoffman Electronics
1960 Hoffman Electronics achieved 14% efficient PV cells.
1963 apan installed the world's largest array at that time a 242-W PV array on a lighthouse.
1964 The Nimbus spacecraft was launched with a 470-W PV array.
1966 The Orbiting Astronomical Observatory was launched with a 1-kW PV array.
1968 Dr. Peter Glaser introduced the idea of a large solar power satellite system with square miles of solar collectors in high geosynchronous orbit The OVI-13 satellite was launched with two CdS panels.
1973 Skylab is powered by photovoltaic cells.
1977 President Jimmy Carter installs solar panels on the White House and promotes incentives for solar energy systems.
1977 The world production of photovoltaic cells exceeded 500 kW.
1982 Spherical solar cell was developed.
1983 Worldwide photovoltaic production exceeds 21.3 megawatts, and sales exceed $250 million.
1985 20% efficient silicon cells are created by the Centre for Photovoltaic Engineering at the University of New South Wales.
1989 Reflective solar concentrators are first used with solar cells.
1992 University of South Florida fabricates a 15.89-percent efficient thin-film cell.
1999 Total worldwide installed photovoltaic power reached 1000 megawatts.
2002 George W Bush goes green and installs 9kW of integrated photovoltaic panels on a maintenance building at the White House along with two solar water heating systems.
2004 Arnold Schwarzenegger proposed Solar Roofs Initiative for one million solar roofs in California by 2017.
2006 Polysilicon used in photovoltaic panels exceeds all other polysilicon use for the first time.
2007 In order to conserve Earth's resources The Vatican announced that they would be installing solar panels on some buildings.
2008 Scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy's National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) have set a world record in solar cell efficiency with a photovoltaic device that converts 40.8 percent of the light that hits it into electricity.
2010 In April the UK Government introduces a Feed in Tariff to encourage investment in renewable energy.
2010 Prince Charles gains the right to install 32 panels on Clarence House south-east roof and is expected to cost £150,000, which will take 10 years to recoup in reduced energy bills.

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