1700’s to 1800’s

  • 1767
    Swiss scientist Horace de Saussure builds the world’s first solar collector.
  • 1816
    Robert Stirling in Scotland applied for a patent for his economiser, a solar thermal electric technology that concentrates the sun’s thermal energy in order to produce power.
  • 1839
    French scientist Edmond Becquerel discovers the photovoltaic effect while experimenting with an electrolytic cell made up of two metal electrodes placed in an electricity-conducting solution.
  • 1860
    French mathematician August Mouchet put forward an idea for solar-powered steam engines. Over the next 20 years, he and Abel Pifre constructed the first solar powered engines.
  • 1873
    Willoughby Smith discovered the photoconductivity of selenium.
  • 1876
    William Grylls Adams and Richard Evans Day discover that selenium produces electricity when exposed to light. Although selenium solar cells failed to convert enough sunlight to power electrical equipment, they proved that a solid material could change light into electricity without heat or moving parts.
    He discovered that selenium generated an electrical current when exposed to light, thereby proving that a solid material could change light to electricity without heat or moving parts.
    This proved to be an important turning point in the history of solar power.
  • 1883
    Charles Fritts laid down the details for the first solar cells made from selenium wafers.
  • 1891
    Clarence Kemp patented the first commercial solar water heater.
French scientist Edmond Becquerel
William Grylls Adams


  • 1904
    Wilhelm Hallwachs discovered that a combination of copper and cuprous oxide is photosensitive.
  • 1905
    Albert Einstein published his paper on the photoelectric effect.
  • 1908
    William J. Bailey of the Carnegie Steel Company invents a solar collector with copper coils and an insulated box.
  • 1918
    Polish scientist Jan Czochralski developed a way to grow single-crystal silicon.
  • 1932
    Audobert and Stora discover the photovoltaic effect in cadmium sulfide.
  • 1954
    Daryl Chapin, Calvin Fuller, and Gerald Pearson develop the silicon photovoltaic (PV) cell at Bell Labs; the first solar cell able to convert enough of the sun’s energy into power to run electrical equipment.
  • Mid-1950s
    Architect Frank Bridgers designed the world’s first commercial office building using solar water heating and passive design. This solar system has been continuously operating since that time and the Bridgers-Paxton Building is now in the National Historic Register as the world’s first solar heated office building.
  • 1958
    Hoffman Electronics achieves 9% efficient photovoltaic cells.

The Vanguard I space satellite used a solar array of less than 1W to power its radios. Later that year, Explorer III, Vanguard II, and Sputnik-3 were launched with PV-powered systems on board and it is still the standard energy source for space applications.

  • 1959
    Hoffman Electronics achieves 10% efficient, commercially available photovoltaic cells.
  • 1960
    Hoffman Electronics achieves 14% efficient photovoltaic cells.

Silicon Sensors Inc. starts producing selenium and silicon photovoltaic cells.

  • 1963
    Sharp Corporation succeeds in producing practical silicon photovoltaic modules.

Japan installed the world’s largest array at that time; a 242-watt system on a lighthouse.

  • 1964
    NASA launches the Nimbus satellite powered by a 470-watt photovoltaic array.
  • 1966
    NASA launches the first Orbiting Astronomical Observatory, powered by a 1-kilowatt photovoltaic array.
  • 1969
    In France at Odeillo, a solar furnace is constructed featuring an 8-story parabolic mirror.
  • 1970s
    Dr Elliot Berman, with help from Exxon Corporation, designs a much cheaper solar cell, reducing the price by 80%. Solar cells began to power navigation warning lights and horns on many offshore gas and oil rigs, lighthouses, railroad crossings and domestic solar applications began to be viewed as sensible applications in remote locations where grid-connected utilities could not exist affordably.
  • 1972
    The French install a cadmium sulphide photovoltaic system to operate an educational television at a village school in Niger.

The Institute of Energy Conversion was established at the University of Delaware to perform research and development on thin-film photovoltaic (PV) and solar thermal systems, becoming the world’s first laboratory dedicated to PV research and development.

  • 1973
    The University of Delaware builds ‘Solar One,’ one of the world’s first photovoltaic (PV) powered residences. The system is a PV/thermal hybrid. The roof-integrated arrays fed surplus power through a special meter to the utility during the day and purchased power from the utility at night. In addition to electricity, the arrays acted as flat-plate thermal collectors, with fans blowing the warm air from over the array to phase-change heat-storage bins.
  • 1976
    David Carlson and Christopher Wronski, RCA Laboratories, fabricate the first amorphous silicon photovoltaic cells.
  • 1980
    ARCO Solar became the first company to produce more than 1 megawatt of photovoltaic modules in one year.
    The first thin-film solar cell exceeds 10% efficiency using copper sulfide/cadmium sulfide.
  • 1981
    Paul MacCready builds the first solar-powered aircraft; the Solar Challenger and flies it from France to England across the English Channel. It had over 16,000 solar cells mounted on its wings, which produced 3,000 watts of power.
  • 1982
    The first, photovoltaic megawatt-scale power station goes on-line in Hesperia, California. It has a 1-megawatt capacity system, developed by ARCO Solar, with modules on 108 dual-axis trackers.

    Australian Hans Tholstrup drives the first solar-powered car, the Quiet Achiever from Sydney to Perth.

    Volkswagen of Germany begins testing photovoltaic arrays mounted on the roofs of Dasher estate cars, producing 160 watts for the ignition system.

    Worldwide photovoltaic production exceeds 9.3 megawatts.

  • 1983
    ARCO Solar creates a 6-megawatt photovoltaic substation in central California, supplying enough power for about 2,000 homes.

    Worldwide photovoltaic production exceeds 21.3 megawatts.

  • 1985
    The University of South Wales breaks the 20% efficiency barrier for silicon solar cells.
  • 1986
    The world’s largest solar thermal facility, located in California, was commissioned. The solar field contained rows of mirrors that concentrated the sun’s energy onto a system of pipes circulating a heat transfer fluid. The heat transfer fluid was used to produce steam, which powered a conventional turbine to generate electricity.

    ARCO Solar releases the G-4000—the world’s first commercial thin-film power module.

  • 1992
    University of South Florida develops a 15.9% efficient thin-film photovoltaic cell made of cadmium telluride, breaking the 15% barrier for the first time for this technology.
  • 1994
    First solar dish generator using a free-piston Stirling engine is tied to a utility grid.

    The National Renewable Energy Laboratory develops a solar cell made from gallium indium phosphide and gallium arsenide that becomes the first one to exceed 30% conversion efficiency.

  • 1996
    The world’s most advanced solar-powered airplane, the Icare, flew over Germany. The wings and tail surfaces of the Icare are covered by 3,000 super-efficient solar cells, with a total area of 21 m2.

    The U.S. Department of Energy, along with an industry consortium, begins operating Solar Two, an upgrade of its Solar One concentrating solar power tower project. Operated until 1999, Solar Two demonstrated how solar energy can be stored efficiently and economically so that power can be produced even when the sun is not shining.

  • 1998
    The remote-controlled, solar-powered aircraft, ‘Pathfinder’ sets an altitude record of 80,000 feet on its 39th consecutive flight on August 6, in California.

    Subhendu Guha, led the invention of flexible solar tiles.

  • 1999
    Spectrolab, Inc. and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory develop a photovoltaic solar cell that converts 32.3 percent of the sunlight that hits it into electricity. The high conversion efficiency was achieved by combining three layers of photovoltaic materials into a single solar cell.

    Cumulative worldwide installed photovoltaic capacity reaches 1000 megawatts.







Gerald Pearson
























Dr Elliot Berman






































  • 2000
    First Solar begins production in Perrysburg, Ohio, at the world’s largest photovoltaic manufacturing plant with an estimated capacity of producing enough solar panels each year to generate 100 megawatts of power.

    At the International Space Station, astronauts begin installing solar panels on what will be the largest solar power array deployed in space. Each wing of the array consists of 32,800 solar cells.

    Sandia National Laboratories develops a new inverter for solar electric systems that will increase the safety of the systems during a power outage.

  • 2001
    NASA’s solar-powered aircraft, Helios, sets a new world record for non-rocket powered aircraft of 96,863 feet; more than 18 miles high.


At the International Space Station

NASA’s Helios

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