By: Elena Chen
The world’s first photovoltaic cell was invented in 1839, by scientist, Edmond Becquerel; his mixture of silver chloride in an acidic solution, illuminated while connected to platinum electrodes, generating voltage and current. From the first discovery of photovoltaic cell by Becquerel to the mandatory requirements of installing solar modules to residential houses by California government in 2020, the photovoltaic system has slowly been adopted into the daily lives of ordinary people. In the history of the photovoltaic system, it is necessary to break it into two parts, the space exploration time period and the expansion of PV system on Earth.
The beginning of a photovoltaic revolution was space exploration. On Aug 28, 1964, NASA launched Nimbus1 in Vandenberg Air Force Base, California. This was a symbolic step forward in the history of mankind as well as for photovoltaic system. According to NASA, Nimbus 1 was designed to serve as a stabilized, earth-oriented platform for the testing of advanced meteorological sensor systems and for collecting meteorological data. It consists of three major elements: a sensory ring, solar paddles, and the control system housing. In the beginning, the US Navy was against the use of solar cells as the power source of its advanced satellite and listed PV system as untried technology. However, Dr. Hans Ziegler, one of the world’s 39 experts in the satellite instrumentation in the late 50s, strongly in favor the use of solar cells for that chemical batteries will have a shorter lifespan. Later, US Navy compromised by putting a dual power system of both chemical batteries and silicon solar cells on the satellite. As predicted by Dr. Ziegler, the battery system lasted for over a week or so, but the silicon solar cell has kept the satellite working for years. From then and on, the use of the photovoltaic system has flourished in space explorations, even till this day.
It is hard to imagine what our world would be without the use of the photovoltaic system in the satellites; photovoltaic systems increase the life span of a satellite, which has given us tremendous insights into our galaxy. Satellites are also important in telecommuting developments, which have assisted in the expansion of convenient telecommunication systems we enjoy today. Hence, there is no doubt in the leading contribution photovoltaic systems made to the space exploration.
Down on Earth: the revolution continues
Space exploration may give the photovoltaic system a stage to express, but the cost of the solar cells has always been a major issue to make it widely usable down on Earth. According to the historical record, a one-watt cell costs almost $300 per watt in 1956 while a commercial power plant costs 50 cents a watt to build at that time. In its’ earlier stages of distribution, the photovoltaic system was mostly used to bring electricity to places that are far away from their grid, such as gas and oil field, lighthouse, railroad, etc. With the excess demand for solar power, more companies started to develop PV systems by inventing new technology to increase productivity and lower the cost by using different materials than the ones previously used for space exploration. Slowly in time, the cost of cells started to look similar to the cost of electricity.
From launching Nimbus1 in 1964 all the way to encourage residents to install PV system to their homes, California has been a leader in the role of technology advancement to pollution control. Nowadays, with increasing environmental concerns across the world, the demand for PV system continues to rise. Indeed, California government has taken a leading force to encourage residents and industry owners install PV system to their building. With the current law of California, residential properties are able to get a 30% tax rebate after their first year of installation of a PV system in their house. Find out more at www.soleeva.com
NASA, NASA, nssdc.gsfc.nasa.gov/earth/nimbus.html.
“Passive Solar History.” California Solar Center, californiasolarcenter.org/history-pv/.