Timeline of solar cells


In the 19th century, it was observed that the sunlight striking certain materials generates detectable electric current - the photoelectric effect. This discovery has laid the foundation of solar cells. 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.


Edmond Becquerel created the world's first photovoltaic cell at 19 years old in 1839.


Einstein's "On a Heuristic Viewpoint Concerning the Production and Transformation of Light" was published in Annalen der Physik in 1905.
  • 1904 - George Cove Solar electric generator
  • 1905 - Albert Einstein publishes a paper explaining the photoelectric effect on a quantum basis.
  • 1913 - William Coblentz receives US1077219, "Solar cell."
  • 1914 - Sven Ason Berglund patents "methods of increasing the capacity of photosensitive cells."
  • 1916 - Robert Millikan conducts experiments and proves the photoelectric effect.
  • 1918 - Jan Czochralski produces a method to grow single crystals of metal. Decades later, the method is adapted to produce single-crystal silicon.
  • 1921 - Einstein awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for his work on the photoelectric effect.


Vanguard 1 with its six solar cells attached
  • 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.


A New Mexico State University professor showing a solar panel in New Mexico in April 1974
  • 1974 - J. Baldwin, at Integrated Living Systems, co-develops the world's first building (in New Mexico) heated and otherwise powered by solar and wind power exclusively.
  • 1976 - David Carlson and Christopher Wronski of RCA Laboratories create first amorphous silicon PV cells, which have an efficiency of 2.4%.
  • 1977 - The Solar Energy Research Institute is established at Golden, Colorado.
  • 1977 - The world production of photovoltaic cells exceeded 500 kW
  • 1978 - First solar-powered calculators.[18]
  • Late 1970s: the "Energy Crisis"; groundswell of public interest in solar energy use: photovoltaic and active and passive solar, including in architecture and off-grid buildings and home sites.


  • 1980 - John Perlin and Ken Butti's landmark book A Golden Thread [3] 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.
  • 1981 - Isofoton is the first company to mass-produce bifacial solar cells based on developments by Antonio Luque et al. at the Institute of Solar Energy in Madrid.
  • 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.
  • 1985 - 20% efficient silicon cells are created by the Centre for Photovoltaic Engineering at the University of New South Wales.
  • 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.
  • 1988 - The Dye-sensitized solar cell is created by Michael Grätzel and Brian O'Regan. These photoelectrochemical cells work from an organic dye compound inside the cell and cost half as much as silicon solar cells.
  • 1988–1991 AMOCO/Enron used Solarex patents to sue ARCO Solar out of the business of a-Si (see Solarex Corp.(Enron/Amoco) v.Arco Solar, Inc.Ddel, 805 Fsupp 252 Fed Digest.)
  • 1989 - Reflective solar concentrators are first used with solar cells.
  • 1990 - The Magdeburg Cathedral installs solar cells on the roof, marking the first installation on a church in East Germany.
  • 1991 - Efficient Photoelectrochemical cells are developed
  • 1991 - President George H. W. Bush directs the U.S. Department of Energy to establish the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (transferring the existing Solar Energy Research Institute).
  • 1992 - The PV Pioneer Program started at Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD). It was the first broad based commercialization of distributed, grid-connected PV system ("roof-top solar").[19]
  • 1992 - University of South Florida fabricates a 15.89% efficient thin-film cell.[citation needed]
  • 1993 - The National Renewable Energy Laboratory's Solar Energy Research Facility is established.[citation needed]
  • 1994 - NREL develops a GaInP/GaAs two-terminal concentrator cell (180 suns) which becomes the first solar cell to exceed 30% conversion efficiency.[citation needed]
  • 1996 - The National Center for Photovoltaics is established. Graetzel, École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, Lausanne, Switzerland achieves 11% efficient energy conversion with dye-sensitized cells that use a photoelectrochemical effect.[citation needed]
  • 1999 - Total worldwide installed photovoltaic power reaches 1,000 megawatts.[citation needed]


Exponential growth-curve on a semi-log scale of worldwide installed photovoltaics in gigawatts since 1992.
Solar cell production by region 2000-2010.[20]
Market share of the different PV technologies 1999-2010.
  • 2003 - George Bush has a 9 kW PV system and a solar thermal systems installed on grounds keeping building at the White House[21]
  • 2004 - California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger proposed Solar Roofs Initiative for one million solar roofs in California by 2017.[22]
  • 2004 - Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius issued a mandate for 1,000 MWp renewable electricity in Kansas by 2015 per Executive Order 04-05.
  • 2006 - Polysilicon use in photovoltaics exceeds all other polysilicon use for the first time.
  • 2006 - California Public Utilities Commission approved the California Solar Initiative (CSI), a comprehensive $2.8 billion program that provides incentives toward solar development over 11 years.[23]
  • 2006 - New World Record Achieved in Solar Cell Technology - New Solar Cell Breaks the “40 Percent Efficient” Sunlight-to-Electricity Barrier.[24]
  • 2007 - Construction of Nellis Solar Power Plant, a 15 MW PPA installation.
  • 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."[25]
  • 2007 - University of Delaware claims to achieve new world record in Solar Cell Technology without independent confirmation - 42.8% efficiency.[26]
  • 2007 - Nanosolar ships the first commercial printed CIGS, claiming that they will eventually ship for less than $1/watt.[27] However, the company does not publicly disclose the technical specifications or current selling price of the modules.[28]
  • 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% 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.[29]
  • 2010 − IKAROS becomes the first spacecraft to successfully demonstrate solar sail technology in interplanetary space.[30][31]
  • 2010 - US President Barack Obama orders installation of additional solar panels and a solar water heater at the White House[32]
  • 2011 - Fast-growing factories in China push manufacturing costs down to about $1.25 per watt for silicon photovoltaic modules. Installations double worldwide.[33]
  • 2013 - After three years, the solar panels ordered by President Barack Obama were installed on the White House.[34]
Worldwide installed photovoltaic capacity in "watts per capita" by country. Estimated figures for year 2016.
  • 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% [4]. 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.[35]
  • 2016 - First Solar says it has converted 22.1 percent of the energy in sunlight into electricity using experimental cells made from cadmium telluride—a technology that today represents around 5 percent of the worldwide solar power market.[36]
  • 2018 - Alta Devices, a US-based specialty gallium arsenide (GaAs) PV manufacturer, claimed to have achieved a solar cell conversion efficiency record of 29.1%, as certified by Germany's Fraunhofer ISE CalLab.[37][38]
  • 2018 - The first dedicated solar panel recycling plant in Europe and "possibly in the world" is opened in France.[39]
  • 2019 – The world record for solar cell efficiency at 47.1% was achieved by using multi-junction concentrator solar cells, developed at National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Golden, Colorado, USA.[40][additional citation(s) needed] This is above the standard rating of 37% for polycrystalline photovoltaic or thin-film solar cells as of 2018.[41][additional citation(s) needed] It was reported in a study published in 2020.[42][43]
Reported timeline of research solar cell energy conversion efficiencies since 1976 (National Renewable Energy Laboratory)



  • Solar cell efficiencies of perovskite solar cells have increased from 3.8% in 2009[44] to 25.2% in 2020 in single-junction architectures,[45] and, in silicon-based tandem cells, to 29.1%,[45] exceeding the maximum efficiency achieved in single-junction silicon solar cells.[additional citation(s) needed]
  • 6 March – Scientists show that adding a layer of perovskite crystals on top of textured or planar silicon to create a tandem solar cell enhances its performance up to a power conversion efficiency of 26%. This could be a low cost way to increase efficiency of solar cells.[46][47]
  • 13 July – The first global assessment into promising approaches of solar photovoltaic modules recycling is published. Scientists recommend "research and development to reduce recycling costs and environmental impacts compared to disposal while maximizing material recovery" as well as facilitation and use of techno–economic analyses.[48][49]
  • 3 July – Scientists show that adding an organic-based ionic solid into perovskites can result in substantial improvement in solar cell performance and stability. The study also reveals a complex degradation route that is responsible for failures in aged perovskite solar cells. The understanding could help the future development of photovoltaic technologies with industrially relevant longevity.[50][51]


  • 12 April – Scientists develop a prototype and design rules for both-sides-contacted silicon solar cells with conversion efficiencies of 26% and above, Earth's highest for this type of solar cell.[52][53]
  • 21 May – The first industrial commercial production line of perovskite solar panels, using an inkjet printing procedure, is launched.[56]

See also


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External links

  • "Solar Resources". SunPower Corporation, 2004.
  • "History: Photovoltaics Timeline". About, Inc., 2005.
  • "Bell Labs Celebrates 50th Anniversary of the Solar Cell - Timeline". Lucent Technologies, 2004.
  • Lenardic, Denis, "Photovoltaics - Historical Development". PVResources.com, 2015.
  • Perlin, John, "Making Electricity Directly from Sunlight". Rahus Institute, 2002.
  • Trinkaus, George, "The Lost Inventions of Nikola Tesla". Free Energy Receiver, Chapter 9.
  • "Solar Energy Timeline", Charles E. Brown Middle School.
  • "Centre for Photovolatic Engineering Timeline". University of New South Wales
  • History of Photovoltaics
  • Firm ups solar cell forecast for 2006, 2007
  • Solar Photovoltaic History Timeline in Slider, 2015