How We Can Harvest the Sun: A Brief Timeline of Solar Panel InventionBy Richard Farrell | | SOLAR PANELS |
Energy is everywhere but the power of the sun is awesome! Albert Einstein’s theory E=mc2 suggests the energy in the sun equals its mass, times the speed of light squared. When we feel its warm caress we know the energy is real. So real, we should not go outside for prolonged periods of time without adequate sun protection like sunscreen or a hat. The first solar panel to capture sunshine was on a New York City roof in 1884.
Early Experiments Aimed at the First Solar Panel
Fritts’ design was expensive because he coated his semiconductor with a layer of pure gold. The energy efficiency rate was also low at 1%. This was no big deal as coal was becoming increasingly abundant. In 1941, American engineer, Russell Shoemaker Ohl patented the first solar cell using higher energy efficiency silicon. By 1960, his design was achieving 5% solar conversion rates – not bad for initial solar panel inventions.
Developments in Solar Energy Efficiency: 1960 – 1990
Americans were hardly interested in the new-fangled solar panel invention. The potential energy savings were almost irrelevant in the face of cheap, abundant energy. There were only six private homes in North America with solar powered heating and cooling in 1974. This laissez-faire approach to burning coal and oil regardless began to change during the 1973 Oil Embargo. Then the 1979 Oil Crisis caused the Federal Government to turn to solar as a way of achieving energy savings.
The Federal Photovoltaic Utilization Program of 1978
The U.S. Government hoped to incentivize the solar panel industry through federal procurement programs. However, the program failed to define its strategic objectives, and faltered when oil prices dropped sharply in the early 1980’s. It did however stimulate interest among private homeowners interested in energy savings.
How Global Warming Affected Solar Panel Development
The gradual warming of the earth’s atmosphere began to bite in the mid-1990s. Society gradually began to embrace solar energy as its green duty to increase energy efficiency. There has also been a sharp uptick in the number of ‘solar farms’ since the government gave them priority on the grid.
The Next Bridge to Cross: Consistency of Solar Supply
We have become accustomed to receiving our electricity anytime we want it. This is owing to nuclear, gas and coal power stations running around the clock. The biggest impediment to universal solar power is that the sun doesn’t shine at night. If we had an international power grid, that might not be a problem. But that degree of trust seems a long way away.
The immediate part-solution appears to be large storage-battery arrays, like the one the California Public Utilities Commission is rolling out. They plan to use these to replace peaking gas stations during high-demand periods with an equivalent energy efficient solution. New battery technology is teaming with solar panels to breed new opportunities.
These are not all ‘big dollar’ projects. In Brooklyn, NY the Brooklyn Microgrid Project is proving we can share our energy efficient solar power with our neighbors. The residents say going green this way inspires a greater sense of community. And so the timeline of solar panel invention continues to roll out. We are thrilled to be part of that future.
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