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Context of '1958-1962: US, Russian Satellites Use Solar Cells to Power Systems'

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1883: Inventor Describes Selenium Solar Cells

American inventor Charles Fritts describes the first solar cells made from selenium wafers. Fritts hopes that his cells might compete with the coal-fired power plants of Thomas Edison, but Fritts’s cells operate at less than one percent efficiency, far below the threshold for practical applicability. [US Department of Energy, 2002 pdf file; American Physical Society, 2013]

Entity Tags: Charles Fritts

Timeline Tags: US Solar Industry

Semiconductor researcher Russell Shoemaker Ohl of Bell Laboratories is poring over silicon samples, one of which has a crack in the middle. Electrical current flows through the cracked sample when exposed to light. The crack, likely formed when the sample was made, actually marks the boundary between regions containing different levels of impurities, so one side is positively “doped” and the other negatively doped. Ohl has inadvertently created a “p-n junction,” the basis of a solar cell. When an excess positive charge builds up on one side of the p-n barrier, and a similar excess charge builds up on the other, negatively charged side, an electric field is created. The cell can be hooked up into a circuit, and incoming photos striking the cell can “kick” electrons loose and start a current flowing. Ohl patents the solar cell, which operates at about one percent efficiency. [American Physical Society, 2013]

Entity Tags: Bell Laboratories, Russell Shoemaker Ohl

Timeline Tags: US Solar Industry

Bell Laboratories scientists Daryl Chapin, Calvin Fuller and Gerald Pearson develop the silicon photovoltaic cell, launching the US’s photovoltaic technology industry. The PV cell is the first to convert enough solar energy to run everyday electrical equipment. Chapin had been working on magnetic materials at Bell Labs, and wanted to develop a source of power for telephone systems in remote humid locations, where dry cell batteries degraded rapidly. Chapin determined that solar energy was the most promising of the alternative energy sources available, but found the existing selenium solar cells (see 1883 and 1940) far too inefficient. Fuller and Pearson were working together to control the properties of semiconductors by introducing impurities. When the two introduce gallium and lithium to a piece of silicon, they create a p-n junction, allowing electrical current to be generated. The silicon cell produces far more electricity than they had anticipated. Pearson informed Chapin to concentrate on silicon cells, and the three work together to improve the properties of the silicon cells. Eventually, the three use a silicon cell with boron and arsenic impurities to create a satisfactory solar cell, and link several together to form what they call a “solar battery.” Their battery produces energy at about a six percent efficiency rating. Bell publicly demonstrates the new battery by using it to power a toy Ferris wheel and a radio transmitter. The New York Times writes that the silicon solar cell “may mark the beginning of a new era, leading eventually to the realization of one of mankind’s most cherished dreams—the harnessing of the almost limitless energy of the sun for the uses of civilization.” Bell Labs later produces a PV cell that achieves 11% efficiency. [US Department of Energy, 2002 pdf file; American Physical Society, 2013]

Entity Tags: Daryl Chapin, Calvin Fuller, Gerald Pearson, Bell Laboratories

Timeline Tags: US Solar Industry

1955: Western Electric Sells PV Licenses

Western Electric begins selling commercial licenses for silicon photovoltaic (PV) technologies (see 1954). Some successful products include PV-powered dollar bill changers and devices that decode computer punch cards and tape. [US Department of Energy, 2002 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Western Electric

Timeline Tags: US Solar Industry

US Signal Corps Laboratories scientist William Cherry discusses developing photovoltaic (PV) cells (see 1954) for proposed orbiting Earth satellites with RCA Labs’ Paul Rappaport and Joseph Loferski. Two years later, the Signal Corps Laboratories successfully fabricates a new silicon PV cell more resistant to radiation and thusly more useful for space-based energy generation. [US Department of Energy, 2002 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Joseph Loferski, Paul Rappaport, US Signal Corps Laboratories, William Cherry

Timeline Tags: US Solar Industry

The US’s Vanguard I space satellite uses a small solar array, generating less than one watt, to power its radios. Later that same year, the Explorer III, Vanguard II, and Sputnik-3 satellites all use PV-powered systems (see 1956-1958) to power its systems. While commercial uses for solar energy in the United States (see 1955) is less than successful during this period, silicon solar cells become a mainstay of satellites and subsequent space exploration vehicles. In 1962, Bell Telephone Laboratories launches the first telecommunications satellite, Telstar. This satellite generates 14 watts of electricity via its PV cells. [US Department of Energy, 2002 pdf file; Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, 2013]

Entity Tags: Bell Laboratories

Timeline Tags: US Solar Industry

The first large commercial production of selenium and silicon PV cells (see 1955) begins at Silicon Sensors, Inc. of Dodgeville, Wisconsin. [US Department of Energy, 2002 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Silicon Sensors, Inc.

Timeline Tags: US Solar Industry

In a press release, Kyocera Solar announces the opening of the Arlington Valley Solar Energy II (AV Solar II) installation in Maricopa County, Arizona, near the Hassayampa Substation. Kyocera, one of the world’s largest producers of solar photovoltaic (PV—see 1954) modules and systems, operates the facility in conjunction with LS Power and the state of Arizona; Governor Jan Brewer (R-AZ) is on hand to officially open the facility. Block 1 is online; Blocks 2 through 5 are expected to be complete by the end of the year. Kyocera Solar vice president Steve Hill says: “Today’s opening of the AV Solar II mega-installation marks a major milestone in Kyocera’s four decades of manufacturing high-quality, long-lasting solar modules. We’re proud to provide US-made products to this utility-scale installation, which adds to the mega-installations around the world showcasing Kyocera’s unrivaled solar solutions including a 204MW project in Thailand and a 70MW installation in Kagoshima, Japan.” When complete, the facility will be one of the largest solar PV installations in North America and will provide 127 megawatts of power for the surrounding community. Brewer tells the press: “Thanks to our strategic location, pro-business climate, skilled workforce, and strong incentives for solar development, Arizona is a national leader in the solar industry. As an Arizona-based company, Kyocera Solar understands how critical this industry is to a secure economic and renewable energy future.” [Business Wire, 5/1/2013]

Entity Tags: Steve Hill, Arlington Valley Solar Energy II, Jan Brewer, Kyocera Solar, LS Power

Timeline Tags: US Solar Industry

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