The Sun gives life to our planet and is the ultimate natural resource begging to be harnessed as a source for our energy needs. It has taken many years of research and development with the photovoltaic effect to get us where we are today with solar cells. The need for clean renewable energy alternatives to coal and oil helped to make solar power development a priority in the last few decades.
The science was born back in 1820 when Edmond Becquerel discovered that when two electrodes are placed in an electricity-conducting solution a voltage is created when it is exposed to sunlight. The development of a practical solar cell; however, was slow in coming over next 150 years. It occurred in steps with many different contributors including a breakthrough in 1953 at Bell Labs by three researchers, Daryl Chapin, Calvin Fuller and Gerald Pearson. They discovered making defused boron into silicone instead of using selenium based solar cells and this jumped efficiency from 1% to 6%.
We have the space race to thank for speeding things up in solar research and development. The obvious need for a continuous sustainable power source for satellites motivated scientists to achieve a 14% efficiency by the end of the 1950’s and a production of 14 watts from their photovoltaic arrays. Efficiency has continued to improve year after year to the point it has become a viable energy source in supplying electricity for the public.
Current estimates by the International Energy Agency are that by 2050 photovoltaic produced electricity will account for 11% of the world’s consumption. Photovoltaic Power Stations capable of 550 MW are already operational in California and Arizona. China and India also have large solar power stations in operation. The U.S. however, leads the way with 8 of the top 10 largest solar power stations producing electricity in the world today.