History of Solar Energy

Solar Energy History from 1980 to the Present

These are some of the most important developments in the history of solar energy in recent times. Although there is much we still do not know about the recent history of solar power, these are some of the highlights!

history of solar energy

In recent times so many people are creating and experimenting with using diy solar energy for their own homes. These people may or may not have had the capability or interest in sharing their discoveries.

Until the internet was developed and in more popular use in the 1990's, most of the modern day solar energy enthusiasts had no way to share what they were learning. Now the history of solar energy is being developed with more possibility for communication and collaboration than ever before!

  • 1981 - Paul MacCready built the first solar-powered aircraft, the Solar Challenger, and flew it from France to England across the English Channel. The aircraft had over 16,000 solar cells mounted on its wings, which produced 3,000 watts (3 kW) of power.

  • 1982 - The first photovoltaic cell powered 1 megawatt (1 MW) capacity system was built by ARCO Solar, and went online in Hisperia, California. Also in 1982, Hans Tholstrup drove a solar car nearly 2,800 miles between Sydney and Perth, Australia. The car was known as the Quiet Achiever!

  • 1982 - The U.S. Department of Energy, along with an industry consortium, began operating a 10 megawatt central-receiver demonstration project dubbed Solar One. This was the first power-tower system in which hundreds of reflective mirrors directed sunlight at a collector in the tower.

  • 1985 - The University of South Wales made solar power history by breaking the 20% efficiency barrier for silicon solar cells.

  • 1986 - The world's largest solar thermal facility was built in Kramer Junction, California. The facility used many rows of mirrors to focus sunlight onto a system of pipes circulating a heat transfer liquid. The heat transfer fluid produced steam, which powered a conventional turbine to generate electricity.

  • 1994 - The National Renewable Energy Laboratory completed construction of its "Solar Energy Research Facility", which has been recognized as the most energy efficient of all U.S. government buildings worldwide. It featured both an active solar electric system but also a passive solar heating system. This same year the Laboratory developed a solar cell made from gallium indium phosphide and gallium arsenide that was the first to exceed 30% efficiency.

  • 1998 - A remote-controlled solar powered aircraft named the "Pathfinder" set an altitude record of 80,000 feet and flew a total of 39 flights in a row successfully in Monrovia, California. Also in this year, Subhendu Guha led the invention of new flexible solar shingles that could take the place of regular asphalt shingles found on many houses.

  • 2000's - There have been many more dramatic leaps forward in the history of solar energy since the 21st century, both in discoveries and in technological advances. Here are just a few!

Recent Advances in History of Solar Energy Since 2000

The largest solar array ever placed on a satellite was used on the International Space Station.

Home Depot, a USA based home improvement chain, began making residential solar power systems available to consumers in dozens of its stores nationwide.

NASA created "Helios", a solar powered aircraft which went on to set a new world record for non-rocket powered aircraft. It managed to attain an altitude of almost 97,000 feet.

The Powerlight Corporation installed a 1.18 megawatt solar power system at the Santa Rita Jail in Dublin, California. This became the largest rooftop solar power system in the U.S.

The Union Pacific Railroad began using 350 blue-signal rail yard lanterns which were powered by solar energy. It also began using LED's at its North Platt, Nebraska rail yard, which is the largest rail yard in the United States.

White Bluffs Solar station, the largest solar power facility in the United States Northwest at 38.7 killowatts, went online in Richland, Washington.

For a more in-depth look at the history of solar energy, visit the U.S. Department of Energy online.

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