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Many ancient cultures used solar energy, going back as far as the ancient Egyptians

Ancient Egyptians designed their mud brick-houses to store the sun’s heat in the walls during the day to be gradually released during cool desert nights. The ancient Greeks, Romans, Native Americans, and Chinese were known to use similar techniques. 

The photovoltaic effect was first observed in 1839

The concept of converting light into electricity dates back to ancient times, but French physicist Alexandre Edmond Becquerel first observed the photovoltaic (PV) effect in 1839. 

Becquerel's discovery of the photovoltaic effect was a groundbreaking moment in the history of solar energy. While experimenting with an electrolytic cell composed of two metal electrodes placed in an electrolyte, he observed that when the cell was exposed to light, it produced more electricity. This observation laid the foundation for the development of solar cells, as it is the basic physical process through which a solar cell converts sunlight into electricity, using layers of semiconductor materials that create an electric field.

The first practical solar cell was developed in 1954

The first practical solar cell was developed in 1954 by scientists at U.S.-based Bell Laboratories. This marked the transition from theoretical understanding to practical application of the photovoltaic (PV) effect for generating electricity from sunlight.

The cell was made from silicon, a semiconductor material still used as the basis for most solar panels today. The original solar cell converts sunlight at an efficiency rate of about 6%, demonstrating the feasibility of solar power as a sustainable energy source.

Solar panels have been used in space since 1958. 

Solar panels first journeyed into space in 1958 with the launch of the Vanguard 1 satellite, heralding a new era of sustainable energy beyond Earth. 

By the 1960s, both American and Soviet programs were extensively using solar panels in space exploration, including the Apollo Moon missions. Over the decades, as technology advanced, solar panels powered longer and more ambitious missions, including the Mars rovers and the Juno probe to Jupiter. 

Today, the International Space Station relies on expansive solar arrays to support life and operations aboard. This continuous evolution of solar technology in the harsh environment of space underscores its durability and efficiency, pushing the boundaries of what solar energy can achieve both on and off our planet.

The energy crisis of the 1970s played a pivotal role in advancing solar technology

This period was marked by severe oil shortages, primarily due to geopolitical tensions in the Middle East. These tensions led to skyrocketing oil prices and widespread fuel shortages worldwide. As a result, many countries, particularly the United States, faced energy insecurity, which exposed the risk of relying heavily on fossil fuels. 

The Department of Energy was founded in 1977 under Jimmy Carter, and with it came increased government funding for renewable energy research, including solar technology development. This led to improvements in solar panel efficiencies and reductions in manufacturing costs.

Solar has an interesting history at the White House starting in the 70s

The history of solar power at the White House tells a tale of geopolitical history and broader U.S. sentiments toward renewable energy. 

In 1979, amidst the energy crisis, Jimmy Carter, as a symbol of individual action, installed 32 solar panels on the roof of the West Wing to heat water. This was mostly a symbolic gesture aimed at promoting renewable energy and demonstrating government leadership in energy conservation. He predicted solar panels would be a common feature on American homes by 2000, inspiring a generation of individuals to embrace solar energy. 

Ronald Reagan had the panels removed in 1986, symbolically reflecting a shift away from renewable energy sources and a focus on domestic oil production. 

In 2003, George W. Bush installed a solar thermal system to heat water for the White House grounds maintenance staff and installed modules on outbuildings.

In 2013, Barack Obama had solar panels re-installed on the White House roof as part of an initiative to increase energy efficiency across federal government buildings. 

Solar is a renewable, sustainable, and green energy source.

Sunlight is a renewable energy source because it is not depleted when it is used. We have an infinite supply of sunlight. It is also sustainable because it meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. And it is green because it is generated using natural resources. 

The solar industry has seen an annual growth rate of 22% over the last decade

There are 179 gigawatts of solar capacity installed nationwide, enough to power nearly 33 million homes. 32.4 GW of solar was installed in 2023, a 51% increase over ‘22.

The cost of solar panels dropped by 82% between 2010 and 2020. 

Costs continue to decrease, although at a slower rate due to supply chain disruptions and an increased demand for raw materials. 

Residential solar systems cost between $2.50 and $3.50/watt, while large-scale solar farms can be as low as $1/watt or less. 

This has been driven by technological advances that have made solar panels less expensive to produce and more efficient, reducing the cost per watt. Government policies have also been largely friendly to the solar industry, offering subsidies and tax incentives that have spurred demand and investment in the technology. 

Solar can add over a 4% premium to the sale of your home

Studies find that nearly 25% of solar-powered homes can expect to sell over the asking price and spend 13.3% less time on the market. 

The top states for solar based on solar capacity installed are California, Texas, and Florida

North Carolina, Arizona, Nevada, Georgia, New Jersey, Virginia, and New York fill out the rest of the top 10

Top solar panels achieve an efficiency rate of 22-24%...plus world records

Efficiency, or conversion efficiency, measures how much sunlight a solar panel converts into electricity. For perspective, residential panels typically are in the 18-21% range. 

Maxeon’s 7 series commercial panel achieved record-breaking results at 24.1% efficiency and is expected to be available in the U.S. in late 2024. 

Oxford PV has achieved a world record for the most efficient solar panel, with 28.6% conversion efficiency. 

The panel can theoretically reach over 43% efficiency using perovskite-on-silicon tandem solar cell technology. This is especially notable because standard silicon technology is believed to have a ceiling of 30% efficiency. 

The most powerful solar panels top 700 Watts

While efficiency measures how much sun the solar panels convert to electricity, wattage tells you how powerful the panels are. And panels have gotten extremely powerful. Residential panels are typically 370-440 watts and cover 25-30 panels per project. 

Over the last several years, as utility-scale projects have grown in popularity, solar panel wattage has been growing to accommodate them. At least eight manufacturers are producing 700+ watt panels, and an additional 12 are making 600+ watt panels today. As the demand for utility-scale and large-scale commercial solar continues to rise, the wattage will accompany it. 

Utility scale solar panels

An increasing amount of the world’s supply of solar energy comes from solar farms, which are large-scale solar installations that sell power to local utilities at a profit for usage by nearby residents. 

The largest solar farm in the world is Golmud Solar Park in China, with a 2.8 gigawatt (GW) capacity powered by nearly 7 million solar panels. 

China and India have seven of the world’s 10 largest solar farms combined. The UAE (Noor Abu Dhabi, Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park) and Egypt (Benban Solar Park) take the other spots. 

All the parks on the top 10 list have a capacity of over 1GW, which is enough to power 750,000 homes. 

The U.S. is home to plenty of its own large-scale solar farms.

Edwards Sanborn Solar and Energy Storage Project (828 MWp/640 MWac, California): 

This massive Terra-Gen project started coming online in early 2024. The record-setting solar plus storage project boasts 828 MWp for solar and 3,287Mwh of energy storage capacity. 

Lumina 1 and 2 Solar Project (828 MWp/640 MWac, Texas): Initiated by Intersect Power and located in Scurry County, Texas, the Lumina Solar project generates enough energy to power 243,000 homes annually. As part of a larger portfolio, Lumina contributes to a 2.2 gigawatt solar and 1.4 gigawatt-hour storage operation across Texas and California.

Copper Mountain Solar Facility (802 MW, Nevada): This facility, initiated in 2010, is situated near Boulder City, Nevada. It is co-located with Nevada Solar One, Boulder Solar, and Techren Solar facilities, forming a 1 GW solar complex. For perspective, the world’s top 10 largest solar farms are all over 1GW+ capacity.

Mount Signal Solar Farm (794 MW, California): This Imperial County-based solar farm, completed in 2014, utilizes approximately 3.4 million solar panels to power around 72,000 homes. It is noted for significantly boosting local employment and economic activity during its construction phases, reflecting a broader impact than energy production.

Solar Star 1 and 2 (579 MW, California): Operational since 2015 in Kern and Los Angeles Counties, these projects use over 1.7 million panels to power about 255,000 homes. Originally the largest in the world at its completion, Solar Star demonstrates the scalability of solar energy technology.

Prospero 1 and 2 Solar Projects (710 MW, Texas): These Andrews County projects began with Prospero 1 in 2020. They use hundreds of thousands of panels and have significant corporate off-take agreements, which are contracts where businesses agree to purchase the electricity generated to ensure a stable revenue stream for the project.

Spotsylvania Solar (500 MW, Virginia): Located in Spotsylvania County and operational around 2020, this project uses over 800,000 panels to become one of the largest on the East Coast, catering to residential and commercial energy needs. It faced challenges such as local opposition, highlighting the complexities of large-scale renewable installations.

Desert Sunlight Solar Farm (550 MW, California): This facility in the Mojave Desert, completed in 2015, uses 8.8 million thin-film panels to power about 160,000 homes annually. Partially funded by the U.S. Department of Energy, it underscores the federal commitment to supporting large-scale renewable projects.

Topaz Solar Farm (580 MW, California): Situated in San Luis Obispo County and completed in 2011, Topaz uses over 9 million Cadmium Telluride (CdTe) modules to power over 160,000 homes.

Atkina Renewable Power Project (500 MW, Texas): Located in Wharton County, Texas, Atkina powers over 100,000 homes annually. Achieved full capacity in 2022. 

Frye Solar (637 MW, Texas): This Repsol project boasts nearly one million panels and 570 MW currently in operation. It includes a long-term power purchase agreement covering 89% of its output, ensuring stable financial returns, and supporting Repsol’s strategy towards becoming a net-zero emissions company by 2050.

Massive utility-scale solar storage projects are becoming increasingly popular, with size records breaking regularly. 

These projects help stabilize the grid, reduce dependency on fossil fuels, and ensure a consistent supply of renewable energy. Lithium-ion batteries are the most common technology used in massive solar storage projects, known for their high energy density and efficiency. However, other technologies, like flow batteries, better for longer storage durations and advanced compressed air energy storage, are also gaining traction.

Some of the most notable storage projects are: 

Hornsdale Power Reserve (South Australia): Often referred to as the Tesla Big Battery, is located in South Australia and was one of the first major installations to demonstrate the capabilities of battery storage on a large scale. With a capacity of 150 MW and an expanded capacity to 194 MW, it provides essential grid stability and emergency backup for approximately 30,000 homes. Commissioned in 2017, it has famously helped prevent blackouts and regional frequency issues.

Moss Landing Energy Storage Facility (California, USA): Situated in Monterey County, California, is one of the world's largest lithium-ion battery energy storage systems. Originally launched with a capacity of 350 MW, expansions are increasing its capacity to over 3Gwh. The facility plays a crucial role in stabilizing California's electricity grid, storing excess energy from renewable sources and dispatching it during peak demand.

Gateway Energy Storage (California, USA): Launched in San Diego in 2020, it’s one of the largest operational battery storage facilities in the U.S. Gateway helps manage California's power supply fluctuations, enhances grid reliability, and supports the integration of renewable energy sources, such as solar and wind.

Victorian Big Battery (Victoria, Australia): Operated by Neoen and using Tesla battery technology, it has a capacity of 300 MW. Commissioned in 2021, it aims to enhance grid stability and support renewable energy integration. This facility is crucial in helping Victoria meet its ambitious renewable energy targets by providing fast-response storage capacity to balance demand surges and supply dips.

Manatee Energy Storage Center (Florida, USA): The Manatee Energy Storage Center in Parrish, Florida, operated by Florida Power and Light (FPL), was recognized as the world's largest solar-powered battery system with a capacity of 409 MW and 900 MWh of energy delivery. This facility, unveiled in 2021, can power approximately 329,000 homes for more than two hours and is integral to FPL's strategy to increase reliance on renewable energy. Comprising 132 energy storage containers across a 40-acre site, the center is part of FPL's broader plan to replace older natural gas units and significantly boost its zero-emissions energy output by the end of the decade.

Edwards Sanborn Solar and Energy Storage Project (California, USA): This massive Terra-Gen project started coming online in early 2024. The record-setting solar plus storage project boasts 828 MWp for solar and 3,287Mwh of energy storage capacity. 

Get it right with Yellowlite

As we look back on the journey of solar energy from the discovery of the photovoltaic effect to today's expansive solar farms and sophisticated storage systems, the technology has come a long way. 

With continued advancements in panel efficiency, battery storage, and supportive policies, solar power is set to play an even more significant role in our energy landscape. 

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