In the spring of 1953, research scientists Gerald Pearson, Daryl Chapin and Calvin Fuller toiled away inside the Bell research laboratory. While researching the applicability of silicon for use in electronics, Pearson fortuitously created a silicon solar cell that was significantly more efficient than prior solar cell creations using selenium. Chapin and Fuller improved upon Pearson’s invention, creating the first photovoltaic (PV) cells capable of powering common electrical appliances. The world was changed forever.

 

However, the change did not happen overnight. Although an innovative means of creating electrical energy had been discovered, efficiency lagged far behind. Compared to other energy sources, solar remained far too expensive to be used commercially.

 

While attempts to commercialize the new technology lagged, PV cells experienced a breakthrough when the US Army and Air Force needed a power source that could continue producing power without human intervention. The US government wanted to put earth-orbiting satellites into space. The first satellite launched by the United States was the “Explorer 1,” which used mercury batteries as its power source. These batteries lasted about four months.

 

The Navy was tasked with putting the next satellite into space, and had decided to use chemical batteries. Hans Ziegler, an expert in satellite technologies, argued relentlessly that the batteries would die after a short period of time and put millions of dollars to waste. After much convincing, the Navy conceded to install a dual power system of batteries and solar onto the first satellite; the batteries died after about 20 days, and the PV cells kept the satellite in touch with earth for years. To this day, PV cells are the dominating energy source in space applications.

 

As research continued, PV cells became more and more efficient (for an explanation of efficiency, see here); in 1954, there was a breakthrough as Bell Laboratories achieved 4% efficiency. Last year, a new record was set when a PV cell was able to achieve 44.7% efficiency.

 

PV cells have continued to decrease in cost and increase in use. In the United States:

  1. Solar panel installation doubled between 2009 and 2010. 

  2. An overwhelming 29% of all new electricity generation capacity in 2013 was in the solar industry.

  3. Year-over-year, the national average PV installed system price declined by 15% to $2.59/W in Q4.

  4. The average price of a solar panel has declined by 60 percent since the beginning of 2011.

 

http://cleantechnica.com/2013/06/18/us-solar-to-hit-grid-parity-2014-2017-more-solar-pv-charts-sort-of/

Projected forecast of PV solar market growth based off of 2012 data. Source: cleantechnica.com

The sun isn’t going anywhere, and our technology for harnessing and storing its energy continues to improve. California set a new record last Saturday  when, according to Reuters, solar generation accounted for about 18% of the state’s electricity demands. As our power demands and the desire for renewable, environmentally neutral energy continue to grow, PV solar panels will experience massive growth in terms of production, profit and energy market share.

 

For other articles related to energy, please see:

Billy Parish, who has created a crowdfunding platform for the Average Joe to invest his share in the emerging solar market.

Elon Muskwho will soon be building a new “gigafactory” that will drive  Teslas and drive down costs of energy storage for solar-created energy.

 

What do you think? Leave a comment in the comments section below or tweet me @dannystevens91 with your thoughts!