Introduction To History Of Solar Electric Power
"Photovoltaic" basically means having the ability to convert light directly into electricity.
In 1838, physicist Edmund Becquerel, at the age of nineteen, was the first scientist to
publish observations about this natural 'photovoltaic' phenomenon of
reported observations were
considered very interesting yet there were seemingly no practical applications.
later, in 1873, Willoughby Smith first reported observing the light sensitivity of
the element selenium while testing materials for underwater telegraph
cables for the Telegraph Construction Company in Great Britain. This first
observation of the photovoltaic effect in a solid, led to experimentation and speculation in to possible uses of a
selenium solar cell.
In 1883, inventor Charles Fritz produced a solar cell with a
conversion efficiency of 1-2%. This invention that produced usable electricity from sunlight caused a considerable amount
of excitement for the potential use. However, industrial or
commercial applications did not materialize.
By the time Thomas Edison
received the first patent for an incandescent light bulb in 1898,
generating electricity with large turbines was the accepted standard. The
research surrounding electricity at this time was more focused on the
control and distribution from centralized generators and the uses of electricity. Consumer electrical product development and marketing of electrical devices quickly became big business.
Modern solar electric power technologies
came about in 1954 when Bell Laboratories experimentation with semiconductors
unexpectedly found silicon doped with certain impurities was very
sensitive to light. The end result was the invention of the first
practical solar modules with an energy conversion efficiency of around 6
Over the last few decades, NASA has used photovoltaic cells extensively proving
the technology to be an excellent means to supply electrical power for the communications, instruments,
and controls in spacecraft. The current space station has a large solar
electric system for generating electricity.
Photovoltaics in the 1950's and
60's was still considered by most as a futuristic
technology appropriate only for high tech remote and special applications. This attitude was mainly due to the high expense of manufacturing the solar cells.
Photovoltaics (or 'solar cells') being produced today have greatly improved conversion efficiencies
and much more cost efficient production methods. With today's large scale production of solar cells the cost of the cells have now become affordable and cost efficient for many applications requiring electricity.
Solar electric systems are now installed on tens of thousands of
homes, businesses, communications stations, and countless other applications, supplying all or part of
their electrical energy needs. Around the world many more systems are being installed every day.
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