Evolution of Solar Photovoltaic Panels by Bob Mills of LG Solar

Solar Photovoltaics (PV) is a technology that converts solar energy into electricity through the use of semiconducting materials. In the last decade, solar technology has exploded to become the most popular renewable energy source in the UK and its deployment is rising rapidly.

But where did it all begin? How did solar PV come about and how will this forge our future?

The early days of solar
Whether you think the credit should go to Becquerel or Fritts, solar cell technology is actually very old, with experiments into the photovoltaic effect starting as early as the 1800s. During this time, solar technology played a vital role in the industrial revolution as it was used to generate steam to drive machinery. However, the brightest minds knew there was more to the story, and inventors continued by investigating how direct sunlight could generate an electric current.

It took over 100 years, but in 1941 the silicon solar cell was patented by the American inventor Russell Ohl. For the next 50 years, changes in the PV space came thick and fast as essential ingredients for the production of modern solar cells, like lithium and crystalline, were added to the mix, making way for even more industry patents.

At the same time, further research and development into PV cells thrived, fuelled by the desire for a better understanding of this technology. It didn’t take long for PV potential to take the world by storm, even the New York Times forecast that solar cells would eventually lead to a source of "limitless energy of the sun".

In the 80s, solar PV became more mainstream as companies emerged to provide mass production capabilities for the commercial sector. According to Lewis Fraas, by 1983, photovoltaic production worldwide exceeded 1.3 megawatts, and sales exceed $250 million. And, by 1985 efficiency of silicon cells being used in space had reached 20% (although down on the ground there was still work to be done with efficiencies being much lower).

Today’s PV market
According to the International Energy Agency, during the past decade solar PV has been the most rapidly growing renewable technology in the world. And, according to KPMG LLP, PV is the most popular renewable energy source in the UK with its deployment is rising rapidly. What is this in numbers?

Earlier this year, the UK Solar industry reached 10 GW solar PV capacity and the European solar industry trade body expects that the UK will remain Europe’s largest solar market in 2016. As deployment rises, costs have gone down, in fact over the last five years cost reduction has reached 70%.

In addition, PV is becoming more widely adopted. In fact, it is expected to be the first renewable technology to achieve “grid parity”, meaning it will produce electricity for the same cost as the electricity available the grid.

Looking further into the future, a new report from GlobalData has predicted that the total global solar PV installed capacity will reach 652 GW by 2025.

It’s no surprise, as at last year’s Paris climate talks, almost 200 countries agreed to accelerate a global low-carbon transition. Perhaps the biggest announcement was from India and France for “international solar alliance” whereby the two countries intend to mobilise more than $1 trillion by 2030 to boost solar power in 120 developing countries. This move is set to take solar installations to the next level across the globe.

At the same time, in the UK, as our PV market transitions from being a subsidised technology to a mainstream one, we will see an increase in innovation as companies seek to drive sales through a competitive edge.

Comparing how and when solar began to where we are now, innovation is still key to driving PV installations. With the appetitive for solar at an all time high, we can expect to see this trend continue for many years to come.

By: Bob Mills, UK Senior Solar Sales Manager at LG Solar