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 was 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.
1954 - On April 25, 1954, Bell Labs announces the invention of the first practical 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.
1981 - President Ronald Reagan Orders Solar Panels on the White House Removed.
1982 - Kyocera Corp is the first manufacturer in the world to mass-produce Polysilicon solar cells using the casting method, today's industry standard.
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. Eileen M. Smith, M.Arch. took 20th Anniversary Journey by Horseback for Peace and Photovoltaics in 2004 from solar roof to Ground Zero NY World Trade Center to educate public about BI-PV Solar Architecture. Array was still generating an average of one MWh daily as it has since 1984 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.
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.
2011 - Fast-growing factories in China push manufacturing costs down to about $1.25 per watt for silicon photovoltaic modules. Installations double worldwide.
2012 - 3D PV-cel with 30% more energy efficiency
2013 - After three years, the solar panels ordered by President Barack Obama were installed on the White House.
2016 - University of New South Wales engineers established a new world record for unfocused sunlight conversion to electricity with an efficiency increase to 34.5% . The record was set by UNSW’s Australian Centre for Advanced Photovoltaics (ACAP) using a 28 cm2 four-junction mini-module – embedded in a prism – that extracts the maximum energy from sunlight. It does this by splitting the incoming rays into four bands, using a four-junction receiver to squeeze even more electricity from each beam of sunlight.
^D. M. Chapin; C. S. Fuller & G. L. Pearson (May 1954). "A New Silicon p-n Junction Photocell for Converting Solar Radiation into Electrical Power". Journal of Applied Physics. 25 (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))]