Solar Birth. History of Photovoltaic Panels

Actually, solar energy is nothing new for mankind. Archaeological evidence proves that people have been using solar power since the 7th century B.C.


Some History

To start fires for cooking, our fathers of old focused the Sun’s energy through a magniglass. This was one of the first solar energy’s uses. By the 3rd century B.C., ancient Greeks and Romans bounced sunlight off of “burning mirrors” to light sacred torches for religious ceremonies.

In ancient times, “sunrooms” that capture solar energy for keeping natural warmth in the building were invented. These south-facing rooms were used by the Romans in their bathhouses and in the adobes of the Native American tribes. Today, such rooms can be found in many modern buildings.

In the late 1700s , researchers and scientists successfully used the sunlight to power ovens during long voyages and for solar-powered steamboats.

In the long run, using the Sun’s power was a common practice for mankind even thousands of years before the era of solar panels

The Era of Invention

In 1839, Antoine-Cesar Becquerel exposed a chemical battery to the sun to see it produce electricity. This first solar panel had an efficiency of only 1 percent, that is, it generated only 1 percent of the sunlight into electricity.

In 1873, Willoughby Smith discovered that selenium was sensitive to light; in 1877 Adams and Day noted that selenium, when exposed to light, produced an electrical current.

In 1880, Charles Fritts used gold-coated selenium to create the first solar cell with only 1 percent of efficiency. Nevertheless, Fritts considered his invention to be revolutionary. He considered the use of free solar energy, predicting that solar panels would replace the traditional power plants.


The 20th Century

Albert Einstein’s explanation in 1905 of the photoelectric effect gave mankind hope to produce more efficient solar panels, but little progress was made. In the middle of the 20th century, research into diodes and transistors revealed the knowledge necessary for scientists.

In 1954, scientists Gordon Pearson, Darryl Chapin, and Cal Fuller produced a silicon solar cell of four percent efficiency.

Many experts argue that it was this event that signified the invention of photovoltaic technology, because it was the first solar technology able provide an electrical device with power several hours a day.

In 1964, NASA launched the Nimbus satellite, which ran entirely on its 470-watt photovoltaic solar panels. It wouldn’t be long now until solar energy’s potential moved from outer space to homes and offices es on Earth.

In the 1970s, an oil shortage brought awareness of U.S. dependency on foreign energy resources. It was during this time that president Jimmy Carter had solar panels installed on the White House’s roof. This initiative increased awareness about solar energy.

The Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), which works to promote, develop and implement the use of solar energy, was established in 1974. The US Department of Energy founded the Solar Energy Research Institute (SERI) (now operating as the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL)) for renewable energy and energy efficiency research and development. The organization gets annual funding from the US Congress.

Solar panels were first successfully used in rural and remote areas as a power source for telephone communications systems. The matter is that they allow generating electricity near the place of its consumption – this eliminates the need for its distribution and transportation to remote areas.

Since the beginning of the 21st century, scientists have been focusing on improving the efficiency of solar panels. As a result, the technology has become more accessible and affordable. The ultimate goal is to make solar power as cheap as traditional energy sources, since it is still not competitive enough.


Efficiency and Price of Solar Panels 

Solar technology’s improvements based on Becquerel’s discovery of photovoltaic effect resulted in invention of solar panels with about 1 percent efficiency that cost around USD 300 per watt.

Bell Labs’ 1954 silicon solar cells showed 4 percent of efficiency and later they managed to achieve 11-percent efficiency.

Later, in 1959, Hoffman Electronics achieved 10-percent efficiency. In 1960, it hit its own record with an efficiency of 14 percent.

The use of solar panels in the space industry during the 1960s increased their production and contributed to a slow decrease in their price – to around $100 per watt.

In the 1970s, Exxon Company funded Dr. Elliot Berman’s research, which resulted in production of a less expensive solar cell that brought solar panel cost down to about USD 20 per watt.

Currently, average efficiency of solar panels is between 15 and 18 percent and they can cost USD 0.50 per watt.

These improvements in solar technology and reduction of solar panels’ cost are achievements of scientists and engineers dedicated to solar as a leading source of clean and affordable electricity for mankind.

We will discuss this and many other issues during SEF 2019 KYIV the 11th Sustainable Energy Forum and Trade Show of Central and Eastern European in Kyiv on October 16-18.

You can register for SEF 2019 KYIV:

on the website:

by phone: +38 044 383 03 56

or by sending an email to




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