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US Solar Industry

Non-Silicon Technology

Project: US Solar Industry
Open-Content project managed by matt, Derek, KJF, mtuck

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1767: First Solar Collector Built

Swiss scientist Horace de Saussure builds the world’s first solar collector. It is later used by Sir John Herschel to cook food during his South Africa expedition in the 1830s. [US Department of Energy, 2002 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Horace de Saussure

Category Tags: History of Pre-Modern Solar Dev/Use, Non-Silicon Technology

Robert Stirling applies for a patent for his “Economiser” at the Chancery in Edinburgh, Scotland. Stirling, a minister in the Church of England, is an amateur scientist and inventor. His “Economiser” is a “heat engine” that uses the sun’s thermal energy to produce small amounts of power. Lord Kelvin later uses one of Stirling’s working models to demonstrate the value of solar power in his university classes. The “Economiser” is later used as part of the design of the “Dish/Stirling System,” a solar thermal electric technology that concentrates solar energy to produce power. [US Department of Energy, 2002 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Robert Stirling

Category Tags: History of Pre-Modern Solar Dev/Use, Non-Silicon Technology

French mathematician August Mouchet conceives the solar-power steam engine. Mouchet and his assistant Abel Pifre build the world’s first true solar-powered engines and use them for a number of applications. The Mouchet engine is the predecessor of modern parabolic dish collectors. [US Department of Energy, 2002 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Abel Pifre, August Mouchet

Category Tags: History of Pre-Modern Solar Dev/Use, Non-Silicon Technology

1880: Bolometer Invented

Samuel P. Langley invents the bolometer. His device measures light from starlight and from the sun’s rays. It is constructed of a fine wire connected to an electric circuit. When starlight or sunlight falls on the wire, the wire becomes slightly warmer, increasing the electrical resistance of the wire. [US Department of Energy, 2002 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Samuel P. Langley

Category Tags: History of Pre-Modern Solar Dev/Use, Non-Silicon Technology

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

Category Tags: History of Pre-Modern Solar Dev/Use, Non-Silicon Technology

Inventor Clarence Kemp of Baltimore patents the first commercial solar water heater. Kemp, who sells cutting-edge home heating equipment, combines the older practice of exposing metal tanks to sunlight with the scientific principle of the “hot box” (see September 27, 1816), thus increasing the tanks’ capability of collecting and retaining heat. He calls his invention the “Climax.” He first markets it to Eastern “gentlemen” whose wives have gone on holiday for the summer, leaving them to their own devices. Kemp sells his heaters by claiming that they will reduce the effort needed to perform housekeeping duties, especially for men unaccustomed to lighting the gas furnace or stove to heat water. Later, Kemp will find a brisk market for his Climax heaters in warmer states such as California. By 1897, a third of the households in Pasadena will use the Climax to heat water in their homes. [California Solar Center, 2001; US Department of Energy, 2002 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Clarence Kemp

Category Tags: History of Pre-Modern Solar Dev/Use, Non-Silicon Technology, Commercial Involvement

Despite the initial success of the “Climax” solar water heater (see 1891), consumers are dissatisfied with a major drawback of the heater: its inability to keep the water it heats hot for more than a few hours. Inventor William J. Bailey of the Carnegie Steel Company separates the solar heater into two components: a heating element exposed to the sun and an insulated storage unit kept inside the home. Bailey’s invention allows families to have solar-heated water day and night, and even into the next morning. The device keeps water in narrow pipes instead of a large tank, allowing the water to retain its heat longer and for less water needing to be exposed to the sun at any given time. Bailey calls his invention the Day and Night, and by 1918 sells over 4,000 of the heaters. [California Solar Center, 2001; US Department of Energy, 2002 pdf file]

Entity Tags: William J. Bailey

Category Tags: History of Pre-Modern Solar Dev/Use, Non-Silicon Technology, Commercial Involvement

By the 1930s, the solar water heater industry is essentially killed off in California by discoveries of huge natural gas reserves in the Los Angeles basin. William Bailey, who has grown rich selling his solar-powered water heaters (see 1909-1918), adapts his design for a thermostatically-controlled gas water heater. His Day and Night Solar Water Heater does quite well in Florida, where a building boom has brought in an influx of new residents, many of whom have to pay high rates for hot water. Florida’s semi-tropical climate and its housing boom creates an excellent selling environment for Bailey’s “hybrid” water heater. By 1941, over half of Florida residents heat their water with solar or solar-gas heaters. However, declining energy rates after World War II combined with an aggressive effort by Florida Power and Light to increase electrical consumption by offering electric water heaters at bargain prices brings the state’s solar water heater industry to its knees. [California Solar Center, 2001]

Entity Tags: William J. Bailey

Category Tags: History of Pre-Modern Solar Dev/Use, Non-Silicon Technology, Commercial Involvement, Utilities and the 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

Category Tags: Non-Silicon Technology

1988: Solar Power Technologies Patented

Dr. Alvin Marks patents two solar power technologies: Lepcon and Lumeloid. Lepcon consists of glass panels covered with a large array of millions of aluminum or copper strips, each less than a micron wide. As sunlight hits the metal strips, the energy in the light is transferred to electrons in the metal, which escape at one end in the form of electricity. Lumeloid uses a similar approach but substitutes less expensive sheets of filmed plastic for the glass panels and covers the plastic with conductive polymers. [US Department of Energy, 2002 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Alvin Marks

Category Tags: Non-Silicon Technology

Sandia National Laboratories develops a new inverter for solar electric systems that will increase the safety of the systems during a power outage. Inverters convert the direct current (DC) electrical output from solar systems into alternating current (AC), the standard current for household wiring and for the power lines that supply electricity to homes. [US Department of Energy, 2002 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Sandia National Laboratories

Category Tags: Non-Silicon Technology

A firm named TerraSun develops a method of using holographic film to concentrate sunlight upon solar cells. Instead of using the usual Fresnel lenses or mirrors to concentrate light, the TerraSun design bases its efficiency on the contention that holographic film allows the more selective use of sunlight, allowing light not being used for power production to pass through the transparent modules. The holographic film transfer method is well suited for use in skylights. [US Department of Energy, 2002 pdf file]

Entity Tags: TerraSun

Category Tags: Non-Silicon Technology

Arizona Public Service (APS), the state’s largest utility company, is using a new project it calls Solana to store solar energy collected during daylight hours to serve power demands during the night, according to an article published in the New York Times. APS had a three-mile stretch of desert near Gila Bend, southwest of Phoenix, bulldozed flat, and installed a network of parabolic mirrors that focus the sun’s energy onto a series of black-painted pipes. The pipes funnel the heat to large tanks of molten salt, which traps the heat until the plant draws the heat out of the salt and uses it to generate steam and electricity. The Solana project is an attempt to overcome one of the largest drawbacks of solar energy, the dearth of energy when the sun is not shining. “We’re going to care more and more about that as time goes on,” says APS general manager Brad Albert. Other states are watching the Solana project closely; California has just approved a rule requiring the state’s utilities to install storage facilities by 2024. Robert Gibson of the Solar Electric Power Association says: “The impetus to require storage is definitely inspired by the success of solar. Hopefully the California initiative is going to kick-start this and bring down costs.” Battery storage has always been a promise, he says, but cost-effective storage “has always been a few years out.” The biggest challenge for Arizona solar users, mainly individuals with rooftop solar arrays, is generating power in the early morning hours, before the sun has risen enough to activate the panels. Arizona and California also face similar problems in the evening, when the sun is too low for the panels to work well and people are returning home. By 6 p.m., most solar arrays are working at half capacity at best, even if they are installed on tracking devices that tilt the panels to follow the sun across the sky. Solana was built with a $1.45 billion loan guarantee from the US Department of Energy. Another similar project, also built with federal loan guarantees, is the Ivanpah project in California (see September 22, 2013). Cara S. Libby of the Electric Power Research Institute says, “There will be a trend towards storage as we see more variable renewables like photovoltaics and wind being added to the grid.” The flexibility of such a system becomes more important as a utility adds higher volumes of inflexible renewables, Libby says. Solana is not the first renewable energy plant with storage; others use banks of electric batteries. But battery storage is so expensive that it is primarily used to smooth the output of the plant and not to store large amounts of energy overnight. Storing energy as heat is much cheaper, but is mechanically inefficient. [New York Times, 10/17/2013]

Entity Tags: Brad Albert, Arizona Public Service, Cara S. Libby, New York Times, Solana, Robert Gibson

Category Tags: Utilities and the Solar Industry, Non-Silicon Technology


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