The timeline of solar cells begins in the 19th century when it is observed that the presence of sunlight is capable of generating usable electrical energy. Solar cells have gone on to be used in many applications. They have historically been used in situations where electrical power from the grid is unavailable.
1877 - W.G. Adams and R.E. Day observed the photovoltaic effect in solidified selenium, and published a paper on the selenium cell. 'The action of light on selenium,' in "Proceedings of the Royal Society, A25, 113.
1883 - Charles Fritts develops a solar cell using selenium on a thin layer of gold to form a device giving less than 1% efficiency.
1954 - Bell Labs announces the invention of the first modern silicon solar cell. Shortly afterwards, they are shown at the National Academy of Science Meeting. These cells have about 6% efficiency. The New York Times forecasts that solar cells will eventually lead to a source of "limitless energy of the sun."
1955 - Western Electric licences commercial solar cell technologies. Hoffman Electronics-Semiconductor Division creates a 2% efficient commercial solar cell for $25/cell or $1,785/Watt.
1957 - AT&T assignors (Gerald L. Pearson, Daryl M. Chapin, and Calvin S. Fuller) receive patent US2780765, "Solar Energy Converting Apparatus." They refer to it as the "solar battery." Hoffman Electronics creates an 8% efficient solar cell.
1958 - T. Mandelkorn, U.S. Signal Corps Laboratories, creates n-on-p silicon solar cells, which are more resistant to radiation damage and are better suited for space. Hoffman Electronics creates 9% efficient solar cells. Vanguard I, the first solar powered satellite, was launched with a 0.1W, 100 cm² solar panel.
1959 - Hoffman Electronics creates a 10% efficient commercial solar cell, and introduces the use of a grid contact, reducing the cell's resistance.
1980 - John Perlin and Ken Butti's landmark book A Golden Thread published, covering 2500 Years of Solar Technology from the Greeks and Romans until the modern day
1980 - The Institute of Energy Conversion at University of Delaware develops the first thin film solar cell exceeding 10% efficiency using Cu2S/CdS technology.
1983 - Worldwide photovoltaic production exceeds 21.3 megawatts, and sales exceed $250 million.
1984 - 30,000 SF Building-Integrated Photovoltaic [BI-PV] Roof completed for the Intercultural Center of Georgetown University. At the time of the 20th Anniversary Journey by Horseback for Peace and Photovoltais in 2004 it was still generating an average of one MWh daily as it has for twenty years in the dense urban environment of Washington, DC.
1986 - 'Solar-Voltaic DomeTM' patented by Lt. Colonel Richard T. Headrick of Irvine, CA as an efficient architectural configuration for building-integrated photovoltaics [BI-PV]; Hesperia, CA field array.
2007 - The Vatican announced that in order to conserve Earth's resources they would be installing solar panels on some buildings, in "a comprehensive energy project that will pay for itself in a few years."
2007 - Google solar panel project begins operation.
2007 - University of Delaware claims to achieve new world record in Solar Cell Technology without independent confirmation - 42.8% efficiency.
2007 - Nanosolar ships the first commercial printed CIGS, claiming that they will eventually ship for less than $1/Watt. However, the company does not publicly disclose the technical specifications or current selling price of the modules.
Photovoltaic World production, 1980-2007 (log scale). The line shows the best-fit exponential to the production for the most recent 10 years, indicating a doubling of production every 2 years. Units are peak MW. Image by Geoffrey A. Landis
2008 - New record achieved in solar cell efficiency. Scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy's National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) have set a world record in solar cell efficiency with a photovoltaic device that converts 40.8 percent of the light that hits it into electricity. However, it was only under the concentrated energy of 326 suns that this was achieved. The inverted metamorphic triple-junction solar cell was designed, fabricated and independently measured at NREL.
2010 - BP announces the closing of their photovoltaic plant in Maryland, moving all of their manufacturing work to China.
^D. M. Chapin, C. S. Fuller, and G. L. Pearson (May 1954). "A New Silicon p-n Junction Photocell for Converting Solar Radiation into Electrical Power". Journal of Applied Physics25 (5): 676–677. doi:10.1063/1.1721711.
^Alferov, Zh. I., V. M. Andreev, M. B. Kagan, I. I. Protasov, and V. G. Trofim, 1970, ‘‘Solar-energy converters based on p-n AlxGa12xAs-GaAs heterojunctions,’’ Fiz. Tekh. Poluprovodn. 4, 2378 (Sov. Phys. Semicond. 4, 2047 (1971))]