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The history of solar power

July 5th, 2009 by kalyan89 in PV-General, Solar Energy - general

Source: Prairie Business Magazine, July 01, 2009

The first solar motor was invented in 1861 by Auguste Mouchout, a steam engine powered entirely by the sun. Because the engine was expensive and England’s coal was cheap, enthusiasm for the invention quickly lost steam.  In 1876, William Grylls Adams discovered that light shining on selenium shed electrons, which created electricity. Albert Einstein received the 1921 Nobel Prize in physics for research on the photoelectric effect, which is central to the generation of electricity through solar cells.

It was 1953 when the first silicon solar cell capable of generating a measurable electric current was developed by Bell Laboratories (now AT&T) scientists Gerald Pearson, Daryl Chapin and Calvin Fuller. The discovery was reported in the New York Times as “the beginning of a new era, leading eventually to the realization of harnessing the almost limitless energy of the sun for uses of civilization.”  The cost of solar cells in 1956 was approximately $300/watt. Current market rates hover around $5. Space technology in the 1950s and 1960s advanced the technology to a point.

The 1973 Arab Oil Embargo prompted new urgency for energy research. Some hoped that massive government investment in subsidies and research would make photovoltaic costs competitive with fossil fuels. But falling fuel costs hindered research progress.

Massive growth in the photovoltaic market in Japan and Germany from the 1990s to the present has revitalized the solar industry. The market’s growth rate is at record levels, offering continued promise to decrease the cost of the technology. Even though photovoltaic and solar thermal technologies have improved for decades, the basics of the energy resources have remained the same.