Solar PV Celebrates 50 Year Anniversary

Fifty years ago this week, the world enjoyed its first glimpse of solar electric power. On April 25, 1954, two Oregonians helped invent the solar electric or photovoltaic (PV) cell and created a revolution in the renewable energy field. Daryl Chapin and Gerald Pearson graduated from Willamette University in Salem and went on to work at Bell Telephone Labs in New Jersey. Pearson was born in Salem in 1905.

Salem, Oregon – April 28, 2004 [SolarAccess.com] According to Oregon’s Department of Energy, the two men, along with Calvin Fuller, were originally searching for a solution to battery problems within the Bell telephone system when they discovered the solar electric cell. The scientists helped create the first solar cell capable of generating enough power from the sun to run everyday electrical equipment. “Oregon played a role in developing solar electricity 50 years ago,” said Oregon Department of Energy Director Michael W. Grainey. “With the increasing interest in renewable energy, Oregon can become the national leader in this field, bringing new economic opportunities to the state.” Fifty years after the invention, the solar electric cell is responsible for generating electricity for millions of people around the world. Christopher Dymond, solar specialist for the Oregon Department of Energy says in 50 years, the cost has certainly declined. “At the time, manufacturing costs were over $1,700 per watt. But costs fell to $20 per watt by the 1970s and are now about $3 per watt,” Dymond says. ” At around $1.50 per watt it will be an affordable roof system that provides the electrical energy needs for a home.” The industry’s main trade association, the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) believes the industry has yet to hit its stride. “After fifty years and two billion watts of solar power, solar energy is, in many ways, just taking off,” said Scott Sklar, a renewable energy expert and SEIA’s interim Executive Director. “From New Jersey to California, solar electric panels are sprouting on the rooftops of homes and businesses at record speed. Solar power is now the fastest growing energy source in the world, with production doubling every 30 months. The only question is, will state and federal policies accelerate or slow the growth of this clean, reliable and home-grown energy source?” Some interesting solar facts from SEIA: – Worldwide solar production is expected to add 1,000 megawatts (MW) in 2004, on top of 2,000 MW already in use. – Experts predict that for a child born this year, the sun will provide as much energy during that child’s life as all domestic oil reserves. – California, New Jersey, New York and Illinois have the leading solar energy policies in the nation. – The solar module displayed in April 1954 STILL WORKS. – Japan has recently overtaken the U.S. as the solar manufacturing capital of the world, thanks to that nation’s strong government commitment to deploying solar power. – Solar is a viable solution for all 50 states: Maine, for example, receives fully 70% of the usable solar resource as sunny Nevada. – Some of the places solar power is used today: offshore oil rigs; office buildings of Fortune 500 companies; and the White House grounds.
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