another informative arcical from the Guardian...
Solar cells have been around since the 19th century – but it is only in the last 10 years that solar power has become commercially feasible for all
We've known how to turn sunlight into electricity for a long time. The photovoltaic (PV) effect – the creation of electric current in a material when it is exposed to light – was first observed way back in 1839 by French physicist AE Bequerel.
In 1888, Russian Aleksandr Stoletov created the first solar cell to reliably generate electricity through the PV effect. By 1900, several scientists held patents for solar cells. But progress from there was slow. In the 50s, modern solar cells were introduced, but they were only used for specialist applications such as satellites.
The huge impact of the oil crisis in the early 70s – when many oil-producing nations united to reduce supply and push up prices – awoke a new fascination with renewable energies. By 1979, the US president Jimmy Carter had famously put solar panels on the White House (and equally famously, Ronald Reagan took them off again).
Solar PV development, like other areas of renewable energy, slowed during the 80s as oil prices fell. All the same, by 1999, total worldwide installed PV power had passed 1,000MW, enough for about 750,000 homes. And in the 21st century, as we seriously begin to grapple with the problem of decarbonising our energy supplies, researchers have concentrated on how to build cheap PV panels for the mass market. Progress has been huge.
Politicians have done their part by offering incentives, such as Arnold Schwarzenegger's 2006 million solar roofs initiative when he was California governor. In Germany, the government put a feed-in tariff in place to boost the solar industry, and in May this year the country created a new world record, with PV supplying a third of the country's peak electrical needs. China plays an ever larger role in solar power, with two of the world's three largest PV companies. By 2016, some believe that China could have over 35,000MW installed domestically.
Meanwhile, immense solar PV farms are being constructed: Gujurat Solar Park in India, for example, has a combined capacity of 689MW, while in Arizona the Agua Caliente Solar Project has a capacity of 200MW.
The implications are enormous. Over the last decade, the cost of PV has dropped, meaning we can really begin to contemplate a decarbonised future and embrace the most limitless energy source of them all until the sun explodes and wipes us all out.