In this post, we highlight some of the most important breakthroughs of the last 176 years in solar energy technology and policy:
1839: Edmond Bequerel, a budding 19-year-old Parisian scientist, discovered the photovoltaic effect when he realized that two electrodes in an electricity-conducting solution produced a voltage when light shined on the solution. The photovoltaic effect is the basic principle upon which all modern solar cells are based.
1876: King's College professor William Grylls Adams and his student, Richard Evans Day, found that selenium produced electricity when exposed to light. While they did not produce enough electricity to power anything, they had shown that electricity could be generated from light without the use of any moving parts.
1883: American inventor Charles Fritts developed the first solar cell by applying selenium to a thin layer of gold. This method was only able to achieve one percent efficiency, however, making it impractical for general use.
1954: Three researchers at Bell Labs, Daryl Chapin, Calvin Fuller and Gerald Pearson, improved the efficiency of solar cells to six percent by using silicon diffused with boron, instead of selenium, in their coin-sized solar cells. While still not viable for commercial use, their breakthrough laid the groundwork for the next 60 years of solar cell development.
1960: After three years of improvements on their eight percent efficient solar cell, Hoffman Electronics produced the first commercially available solar cell that operated at 14 percent.
early 1970s: With funding from Exxon Corp., Dr. Elliot Berman used lower-grade silicon and cheaper housings to cut the cost of solar cells by 80 percent per watt (from $100/watt down to just $20/watt), making it realistic for solar energy to power more than just satellites.
1990: First grid-supported photovoltaic system is completed and installed in Kerman, Calif. by Pacific Gas & Electric, the world's first 'distributed power' effort.
2004: California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger proposes Solar Roofs Initiative for one million homes powered by residential solar panels in California by 2017.
2007: University of Delaware claims to achieve new world record of 42.8 percent in solar cell technology.
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