Celebrating The 60th Anniversary Of The First Practical Solar Cell

Sixty years ago on April 25, 1954, Bell Laboratories demonstrated to the world one of the most significant breakthroughs ever recorded in the history of solar energy and of electricity – the first solar cell capable of converting enough sunlight into electricity to generate useful amounts of power. The press watched in awe as light poured on the first watt of silicon to run a 21 inch Ferris wheel. The next day the New York Times stated on its front page that the Bell invention marked “the beginning of a new era, eventually leading 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.”

At the time of the Bell announcement, all the solar cells in the world delivered about one watt. Today, more than 100 billion watts of generating capacity of photovoltaics have been installed worldwide. This year not only marks the 60th anniversary of the solar cell, but also the beginning of reaching the Holy Grail that had previously been only a dream of solar scientists – entering the Era of Grid Parity, when solar panels generate power at costs equal to or less than electricity produced by fossil and nuclear fuels. With the phenomenal growth of solar technology in the last several years and its future looking even brighter, the time is ripe to celebrate the founding of a technology that led Science magazine almost forty years ago to declare, “If there is a dream solar technology, it is photovoltaics ­­­solar cells … a space­age electronic marvel at once the most sophisticated solar technology and the simplest, most environmentally benign source of electricity yet conceived."

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