In my third and final post in this History of Solar Power series, I'm delving into solar power's growth — more of the business side of solar power. I'm highlighting "economies of scale" in the title because I think there are three key things that have driven solar power growth: scientific advancements, good governmental policies, and economies of scale. Enjoy this walkthrough of how solar power manufacturing has grown over the years, and the companies that have led the way and continue to lead the way!
Economies of Scale
1954: The first silicon photovoltaic solar cell capable of powering common electrical devices is produced by Bell Labs. The solar cell has a conversion efficiency of 6%.
1955: Western Electric licenses solar cell technology commercially. Hoffman Electronics starts selling solar cells commercially for $25/cell (or $1,785 per watt). The solar cells have a 2% energy conversion efficiency.
1957: Hoffman gets the efficiency of its photovoltaic cells up to 8%.
1960: Hoffman gets the efficiency of its photovoltaic cells up to 14%.
1963: Sharp Corporation produces the first silicon solar PV modules. (Sharp is still a leading solar module manufacturer.) Later in the year, Japan installs a world record 242-watt solar array on a lighthouse. (Sharp's founder, Tokuji Hayakawa, pictured at right.)
1968: The first solar-powered watch is introduced by Roger Riehl.
1973: The University of Delaware builds one of the world's first solar-powered houses. The house, called Solar One, uses a hybrid PV/thermal system. "In addition to electricity, the arrays acted as flat-plate thermal collectors, with fans blowing the warm air from over the array to phase-change heat-storage bins." The electricity produced by Solar One is sent back into the grid using a special meter designed for such a purpose, much as is done today in countries around the world.
1977: Total solar PV panel production exceeds 500 kilowatts.
1978: First solar-powered calculators hit the market.
1980: ARCO Solar produces over 1 megawatt (1000 kilowatts) of solar PV panels (aka modules) in a single year. It is the first company to achieve this milestone.
1982: The first solar PV power plant at least 1 megawatt (1,000 kilowatts) in capacity is developed. It is developed in Hisperia, California by ARCO Solar, and it uses 108 dual-axis trackers to track the sun and thus produce more electricity.
1982: Solar PV production surpasses 6 MW globally
1983: Solar PV production surpasses 21.3 MW globally. Sales total over $250 million.
1983: A 6-MW solar PV power plant is developed in central California. The 120-acresolar farm, developed by ARCO Solar, is unmanned once completed but sends the Pacific Gas & Electric Company’s electric grid enough power for 2,000-2,500 homes annually.
1984: Harold McMaster forms Glasstech Solar to try to develop low-cost, thin-film solar cells using amorphous silicon. He ends up switching to CdTe solar cells, forming Solar Cells, Inc in 1990. Solar Cells, Inc eventually becomes First Solar, which is now (in 2014) one of the largest solar manufacturers and also the largest solar developer in the world.
1985: SunPower founded by Richard Swanson, an electrical engineering professor at Stanford University.
1990: Solar Cells, Inc founded.
1990: Siemens acquires ARCO Solar. ARCO Solar is thus renamed Siemens Solar.
1996: Siemens Solar passes 100 MW of installed power from its solar modules.
1997: Siemens Solar becomes first company to offer 25-year solar module warranty.
1998: SolarWorld formed in Germany.
1998: Yingli Green Energy (aka Yingli Solar) is founded by Liansheng Miao. (Over 15 years later, Liansheng Miao is still the company’s chairman and CEO.)
1999: Solar PV production surpasses 1000 MW globally.
1999: Germany passes feed-in tariff policy. Utilities must pay solar power producers a specific, designated rate for electricity they produce (in order to ensure a good return on investment and scale up the solar market). The policy comes into effect in 2004. This policy does eventually result in a tremendous scaling up of the solar PV market and commensurate drops in solar PV prices.
2001: Home Depot starts selling residential solar power systems in San Diego.
2002: Home Depot now selling residential solar power systems in 61 stores, nationwide.
2002: First Solar starts producing solar panels commercially. It opens the world’s largest solar PV manufacturing plant, which has a production capacity of about 100 megawatts (but that production level is not reached for several years).
2002: Royal Dutch Shell buys Siemens Solar. Siemens Solar is renamed Shell Solar.
2003: Yingli Green Energy begins producing solar modules, with an annual production capacity of 3 megawatts.
2004: Yingli Green Energy reaches an annual solar module production capacity of 50 megawatts.
2004: SunPower’s first solar manufacturing plant opens in the Philippines. Its first utility-scale power plant is completed in Bavaria.
2004: Japan passes 1 gigawatt of installed solar PV power capacity.
2005: First Solar reaches annual production of 25 MW of thin-film solar modules.
2005: SunPower joins the NASDAQ stock market with an Initial Public Offering (IPO).
2005: Suntech joins the New York Stock Exchange with an Initial Public Offering (IPO).
2006: Polysilicon is used more in solar PV than in all other applications combined.
2006: First Solar joins the NASDAQ stock market with an Initial Public Offering (IPO).
2006: SolarWorld buys Shell Solar.
2006: SolarCity formed by Lyndon and Peter Rive, as suggested by cousin (and now chairman) Elon Musk.
2007: SunPower begins volume production of record-breaking, 22.4% efficiency solar cells.
2007: SunPower becomes a vertically integrated solar company serving the residential, commercial, and utility-scale solar power plant markets after purchasing PowerLight. It also opens a second manufacturing plant in the Philippines.
2007: Solar leasing and PPA programs begin in the US. Investors put in the money for the solar power systems and get it back through contracts in which homeowners and businesses agree to pay a set rate over the course of 15 to 20 years.
2007: SunPower acquires PowerLight Corporation, a global leader in the development of large-scale solar power plants.
2007: The first commercially produced CIGS solar cells are printed by Nanosolar.
2007: Yingli Green Energy joins the New York Stock Exchange with an Initial Public Offering (IPO).
2008: Global installed solar PV power capacity has been doubling approximately every other year for the past 10 years.
2009: First Solar becomes first solar company to get its solar panel cost down to $1 per watt.
2009: First Solar becomes first solar company to produce over 1 gigawatt of solar modules in one year.
2009: Photovoltaik Global 30 Index, a German stock market index for solar companies, is formed.
2009: Yingli Green Energy reaches 1 gigawatt of cumulative solar panel production.
2009: India unveils $19 billion plan to install 20 gigawatts of solar power capacity by 2020.
2010: Yingli Green Energy becomes the first Chinese company as well as the first renewable energy company to sponsor the FIFA World Cup.
2010: Germany passes 10 gigawatts of cumulative installed solar PV capacity, reaching over 17 gigawatts by the end of the year.
2011: The fast growth of solar module production around the world, but especially in China, and perhaps also subsidies from the Chinese government, drive the price of solar modules down to $1.25 per watt for silicon solar PV modules.
2011: Installed solar PV power capacity doubles globally.
2011: First Solar shifts toward only serving markets in which solar power is cost-competitive without any forms of subsidy. At this stage, First Solar has 36 production lines around the world with a manufacturing capacity of 2,376 MW.
2011: French oil company Total buys 60% of SunPower for $1.38 billion.
2011: SunPower partners with Citigroup to offer residential solar leases.
2011: Forbes ranks First Solar one of the 25 fastest-growing technology companies in the United States.
2012: SolarCity joins the NASDAQ with an initial public offering (IPO).
2012: Yingli Green Energy (aka Yingli Solar) reaches a production capacity of 2,450 megawatts per year, more than any other company. It also becomes the world’s leading solar module manufacturer in terms of revenue and shipments.
2012: India goes from 2.5 megawatts of grid-connected solar PV capacity in mid-2011 to over 1,000 MW in mid-2012.
2012: SunPower acquires French solar company Tenesol.
2013: United States passes 10 gigawatts of cumulative installed solar PV capacity, reaching nearly 12 gigawatts by the end of the year.
2013: China adds over 10 gigawatts of solar power capacity in a single year, the first country to do so, adding 11.3 gigawatts in total by the end of the year. The country’s cumulative total is more than doubled to 18.3 gigawatts. (China’s 2007 plans for the country was to grow to 1.8 gigawatts of solar power capacity by 2020. So, it has installed 10 times more than that 7 years early. By 2009, the estimate/target was up to 10 gigawatts by 2020, but it was still far too low.)
2014: Yingli Green Energy again sponsors the FIFA World Cup. It also supplies solar modules for some of the World Cup stadiums.
2014: Off-grid clean energy access market valued at $12 billion.
2014: Yingli Green Energy (aka Yingli Solar) passes 10 gigawatts of cumulative installed solar PV capacity worldwide.