When Was Solar Power Cell Technology Invented? [Explained]

Solar power cells provide cleaner and more sustainable energy, making our lives easier. But when was solar power cell technology invented? Many people might have inquired about this as solar energy uses expand globally.

Well, French scientist Alexandre-Edmond Becquerel invented the photovoltaic cell in 1839. After that, Bell Labs’ discovery in April 1954 led to the first practical silicon solar cell. The invention changed the solar industry and created a new wave of research and development. Many countries are utilizing solar energy after this discovery, which led to its commercialization.

But that’s only the beginning! So, let me take you on an exciting journey through the development and significance of solar power technology. Also, you’ll gain insight into solar power cell technology’s origins and impact on our world.

Let’s get rolling!

When Was Solar Power Cell Technology Invented? A Brief History

When were solar panels invented? In 1839 the photovoltaic effect was discovered, and in April 1954, Bell Laboratories invented the solar cell. In this invention, silicon solar cells displayed their prowess in converting sunlight into electricity. With this discovery, solar power became a viable alternative energy source.

Usually, the history of solar PV cell technology dates back to 1839 with the discovery of the photovoltaic effect. Solar technology continued in 1873 when Willoughby Smith discovered the photovoltaic effect. It was a significant breakthrough in the understanding of light-to-electricity conversion.

After this discovery, William Grylls Adams and Richard Evans Day demonstrated the photovoltaic principle applied to selenium in 1876.

In 1883, American inventor Charles Fritz developed the first functional selenium solar cell. While modern first solar panels mostly use silicon, Fritz’s innovation laid the groundwork for subsequent advancements. 

His selenium cell was pivotal in harnessing solar energy timelines for practical applications. As a sustainable alternative to coal, Charles Fritts installed solar panels on a Manhattan rooftop in 1884.

After that, Wilhelm Hallwachs showed in 1888 that negatively charged bodies release electrons in a vacuum when exposed to ultraviolet radiation. Hallwachs’ insights contributed to the recent development in solar cell materials and solar energy principles.

In 1905, Albert Einstein explained how light can induce current by dislodging electrons from certain metals in his seminal paper on the photoelectric effect. Solar energy became popular after Einstein’s explanation.

Later, the mid-20th century marked a significant turning point in solar technology with Bell Labs’ work in 1954. With Daryl Chapin, Calvin Fuller, and Gerald Pearson, solar energy became more accessible and efficient. Due to silicon’s abundance and superior performance, solar technology has become more widely adopted.

Since 1958, solar panels have powered various spacecraft, including Vanguard II, Explorer III, and Sputnik-3. These missions showed how well solar power works in space, paving the way for terrestrial applications.

Quick Graph of Solar Power Technology’s History and Development

From the 19th century to now, here is a quick timeline of major milestones in solar energy technology development and solar power cell technology invention details:

YearHistory Details
1839Alexandre-Edmond Becquerel creates the world’s first photovoltaic cell.
1861Auguste Mouchout patents a solar-powered motor.
1873Willoughby Smith discovers the photovoltaic effect in selenium.
1876W. G. Adams discovers the change in the electrical resistance of selenium due to radiant heat, light, or chemical action.
1882Abel Pifre builds a solar engine powering a solar printing press.
1883Charles Fritts developed the first solar cell using selenium coated with gold.
1883John Ericsson develops a “sun motor” using parabolic trough construction (PTC).
1884Charles Fritts installs solar panels on a rooftop in New York City.
1888Wilhelm Hallwachs describes the physics of photovoltaic cells in the Hallwachs effect.
1905Albert Einstein publishes “On a Heuristic Viewpoint Concerning the Production and Transformation of Light.”
1916Solyndra’s bankruptcy slows solar industry growth.
In 1917Albert Einstein introduced the notion of light as packets carrying electromagnetic force.
1929Gilbert Lewis coins the term “photons” to describe Einstein’s packets of electromagnetic energy.
1941Russell Ohl files a patent for the first monocrystalline silicon solar cell.
1951Solar cells made from germanium were constructed.
1954Bell Laboratories produces the first efficient silicon solar cell.
1955The first solar-powered telephone call is made.
In 1956General Electric introduced the first solar-powered radio.
1958Vanguard I is the first spacecraft powered by solar panels.
1960A car with a solar panel roof drives around London.
1961The United Nations sponsors a conference on the use of solar energy.
1967The Soviet Union’s Soyuz 1 becomes the first solar-powered spacecraft to carry humans.
1972The Synchronar 2100, a solar-powered watch, goes on the market.
1977The U.S. Department of Energy is established.
1982The first large-scale solar farm is built. The Sacramento Municipal Utility District commissions its first solar electricity-generating facility.
1985Silicon cells with 20% efficiency are created. Lithium-ion batteries are developed.
1991The first lithium-ion batteries reach commercial production.
1992The Investment Tax Credit is made permanent by Congress.
In 2000Germany created a feed-in-tariff program to stimulate the solar industry.
2001Home Depot begins selling residential solar power systems. Suntech Power is founded in China.
2006The California Public Utilities Commission approves the California Solar Initiative.
2008NREL sets a world record for solar cell efficiency at 40.8%.
2010U.S. President Barack Obama re-installs solar panels at the White House.
2011Solyndra bankruptcy slows solar industry growth.
2013Worldwide solar PV installations pass 100 gigawatts.
2017The solar industry employs more people in electricity generation in the U.S. than do fossil fuel industries.
2019The first offshore floating solar farm is installed in the Dutch North Sea.
2020California mandates all new homes to have solar panels. The International Energy Agency declares “Solar is the new king of the electricity markets.”
2021Apple, Inc. announces the construction of the world’s largest lithium-ion battery to store energy from its 240 megawatt-hours solar farm in California.
2022Global Solar Power Capacity 1.2 (TW)

Foot Note: There are some leading countries in the world, that have leading solar power generation capacity.

  • China: 393 GW
  • United States: 113 GW
  • Japan: 83 GW
  • India: 60 GW
  • Germany: 59 GW

The solar power future is smart and looks bright compared to the other natural energy sources (diesel power plants, coal, natural gas-fired power plants, etc.). The International Energy Agency (IEA) predicts that solar power could occupy 20% of global electricity generation by 2050.

The Growth of Solar Energy

Several critical historical events and scientific breakthroughs have contributed to the recent development of solar cells and the growth of solar technology. As early as 1905, Albert Einstein published a paper highlighting the benefits of solar energy. Afterward, he was awarded the Nobel Prize for this research.

Then, the space race of the mid-20th century played a pivotal role in advancing solar technology. In 1956, William Cherry proposed using photovoltaic technology on satellites, foreseeing their potential for generating power in space.

Shortly after, the Vanguard I satellite in 1958 became one of the first to utilize a small solar array to power its radio. It became a significant milestone in space exploration. 

In 1964, NASA launched Nimbus I, which included solar panels to track the sun and extend mission life. 

Compared to the previous year, photovoltaic capacity grew by 228 gigawatts (G.W.) in 2022, representing a 24% increase in new installations. As a result, the total global capacity exceeded 1,185 GW at the end of the year.

A remarkable 55% solar electric generating capacity growth was recorded in 2023. This is due to policies like the Inflation Reduction Act. In total, 161 gigawatts (G.W.) of solar capacity have been installed, contributing to the national grid.

According to estimates, solar energy will contribute 6.8% to total electricity generation by 2024, a 23% increase. The significant growth of solar power indicates the growing prominence of this energy source.

Solar Power Technology: The Science Behind It

Usually, solar energy is a natural and renewable source suitable for residential and commercial use. There are two primary concepts to consider when understanding solar power technology:

1. Photoelectric Effect

It occurs when a material is exposed to electromagnetic radiation, such as light, leading to electron emission as free particles. When light strikes a material like metal, electrons absorb the energy and become excited.

In more energy than an atom can absorb, electrons become free particles. This way, a photon is like a marble propelled from a well.

2. Photovoltaic Effect

Like the photoelectric effect, the photovoltaic effect occurs when light excites electrons within a material. The photovoltaic effect generates current instead of emitted electrons as free particles.

This effect is observed in semiconductors or materials with conductivity levels between conductors and insulators. When light energizes a semiconductor, electrons get excited.

When Did Solar Panels Become Commercially Available?

Solar panels became commercially available in 1956. The first solar panels were costly and only used in specialized applications. Their initial cost of $300 per watt made them unaffordable for most civilians. In 1975, costs had fallen to around $100 per watt, making it more accessible.

In 1956, the first commercial solar panel was invented, albeit with a hefty price tag of $300 per watt, far beyond most civilians. Over time, the cost has come down, and solar panels have become more common.

Then, by 1975, advances drove costs down to about $100 per watt. As a result, prices have steadily declined for the past decade, dropping at least 10% each year.

In the 1970s, Dr. Elliot Berman and Exxon engineered a more cost-effective solar cell, reducing the cost per watt to $20. As a result, solar technology was democratized and integrated into various industries.

What Purpose Did Solar Panels Serve at That Time?

The primary purpose of solar panels is to convert sunlight into electrical energy. Solar technologies, like photovoltaic (P.V.) panels, produce electricity from solar radiation. Thermal applications, such as heating water or space, can also use this electricity. However, some of the primary purposes of solar panels during earlier periods include:

  • In remote areas without traditional power, solar panels provide electricity to power communication systems and scientific instruments.
  • Due to their lightweight design, solar panels power spacecraft and satellites, which overcome battery or fuel cell limitations.
  • Using solar panels to monitor weather, wildlife, and ecological changes in remote areas.
  • During disasters, solar panels provide emergency communication and medical equipment with independent power.
  • Projects showcased solar energy’s potential as an alternative energy source.
  • A solar-powered water pump can enable efficient irrigation without manual labor or fossil fuels.
  • As solar panels reduce reliance on fossil fuels, they help mitigate greenhouse gas emissions.

When Were Solar Panels First Used on Houses?

Solar panels were first used on houses in 1884 when Charles Fritts installed them on a New York City rooftop. Early civilizations used sunlight for heating, lighting, and other purposes, enabling solar energy utilization for centuries.

However, solar energy dates back centuries, with historical records indicating early attempts to use sunlight. As early as the 7th century, humans used magnifying glasses to concentrate sunlight and light on fires.

In the 3rd century B.C.Greeks and Romans used mirrors to focus sunlight and light torches for religious ceremonies. Similarly, Chinese civilization documented mirror use around 20 A.D.

There was also an early application of solar energy in the form of “sunrooms” in buildings, which directed sunlight into concentrated areas. Bathhouses in Roman times, particularly those facing south, served as early sunrooms.

Additionally, Anasazi natives built south-facing cottages on cliffs during cold winters in the 1200s A.D. In the late 1700s and 1800s, researchers and scientists further explored solar energy applications.

They successfully used sunlight to power ovens for long voyages and experimented with solar-powered steamboats. A long time before solar panels were introduced, these endeavors recognized the sun as a renewable energy source.

Which Country Invented Solar Panels?

Solar panels, specifically the icon photovoltaic (P.V.) cells are from the United States. In 1954, Daryl Chapin, Calvin Fuller, and Gerald Pearson developed the silicon photovoltaic cell at Bell Labs.

The silicon P.V. cell represented a significant milestone as it converted enough solar energy to power electrical equipment. This laid the foundation for widespread solar technology adoption worldwide.

In the field of renewable energy, Bell Labs technology revolutionized solar panels. It also established the United States as a solar energy research and technology pioneer.

What is First-generation Solar Cell Technology?

First-generation solar cells, primarily composed of crystalline silicon, represent the initial stage of solar cell technology. Using monocrystalline silicon and polysilicon, they convert sunlight into electricity using the photovoltaic effect.

Traditionally, standard or wafer-based solar cells are the earliest generation of solar cells. During commercial photovoltaic (PV) technology, crystalline silicon dominates. It includes polysilicon and monocrystalline silicon, both widely used for solar cells.

A silicon wafer is sliced from a large crystal ingot to construct crystalline silicon solar cells. Polycrystalline silicon solar cells use multi-crystalline silicon, while monocrystalline silicon solar cells use single-crystalline silicon. The manufacturing process is relatively simple and the technology is established.

However, first-generation solar cells laid the groundwork for upcoming solar cell generations. As a result of their work, solar energy has become an economically viable and scalable renewable energy source.

Future of Solar Power Technology

With ongoing innovation, solar energy has promising prospects. Despite significant advancements, modern solar cells hover around 15 to 18%, indicating room for improvement. Researchers and engineers aim to improve solar cell performance and affordability.

Future solar innovations must achieve higher efficiency while lowering production costs. These advances would make solar energy more accessible and competitive against traditional energy sources. The use of solar energy can reduce fossil fuel dependency and pollution.

Solar technology will provide clean and sustainable energy solutions to homes and businesses as it expands. Several trends are expected to shape solar energy adoption over the next decade.

Individuals and businesses will increasingly adopt solar systems as solar panel prices decline. It is essential in developing countries, where solar power can improve access to electricity and reduce dependence on fossil fuels.

Besides residential and commercial applications, solar energy is poised to make significant inroads in the transportation industry. The industrial sector benefits from solar steam generation and thermal storage technologies. Using these technologies reduces reliance on existing energy sources and reduces carbon emissions.

Frequently Asked Question

 What purpose did the solar panel serve?

Solar panels convert sunlight into electrical energy using photovoltaic (P.V.) panels or concentrated solar power systems. You can use this energy directly, store it in batteries, or use it for thermal applications like heating water.

How fast is solar technology improving?

Solar technology is improving rapidly, with technological advancements and decreased costs making it more accessible. Almost 12 times more solar energy will be generated in 2022 than in 2013. It shows solar energy’s growing popularity.

What is the newest solar technology?

The newest solar technology is tandem solar cells. These cells convert a significantly more significant portion of sunlight into electricity than conventional solar cells. They represent the latest advancements in solar energy technology.

When was the first solar power used?

Solar power dates back to the 7th century B.C., when humans used magnifying glasses to concentrate sunlight and create fire. In 1883, inventor Charles Fritts installed the first solar device to generate electricity from sunlight.

What is the best solar cell technology?

A monocrystalline solar cell or polycrystalline solar cell with high-efficiency ratings is often one of the best technologies. A monocrystalline PV panel uses a single silicon crystal, while polycrystalline panels differ in production processes.

Final Note

The invention of solar cells has transformed the world of renewable energy. Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, solar power has proven to be a reliable and sustainable source of electricity.

In the article above, I attempted to discuss all aspects of “When was solar power cell technology invented”, when was the first solar panel created, and others. Please read the article carefully again if you have any questions.

As technology advances, it is exciting to see the potential for further improvements and innovations in solar energy. In the future, solar power cells will undoubtedly play a crucial role in shaping clean energy solutions.

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