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Energy timelines

Solar thermal

  • Auguste Mouchout (France), a mathematics instructor, was able to convert solar radiation directly into mechanical power.
  • William Adams (England) constructed a reflector of flat-silvered mirrors arranged in a semicircle. To track the sun's movement, the entire rack was rolled around a semicircular track, projecting the concentrated radiation onto a stationary boiler.
  • Charles Fritts (United States) built the first genuine solar cell with an efficiency rate between 1% to 2%.
  • John Ericsson (United States) invented and erected a solar engine that used parabolic trough construction.
  • Albert Einstein won the 1921 Nobel Prize in Physics for his theories that explained the photoelectric effect.
  • Energy was scarce during World War II so passive solar buildings became popular in the United States.
  • Libbey-Owens-Ford Glass Company published a book titled, Your Solar House, which profiled 49 of the nation's greatest solar architects.
  • Frank Bridgers (United States) designed the world's first commercial office building that features solar water heating and passive design. The Bridgers-Paxton Building is listed in the National Historic Register as the world's first solar-heated office building.
  • A "solar furnace" was constructed in Odeillo, France; it featured an eight-story parabolic mirror.
  • The University of Delaware built "Solar One," a PV/thermal hybrid system. Roof-integrated arrays fed surplus power through a special meter to the utility during the day; power was purchased from the utility at night. In addition to providing electricity, the arrays were like flat-plate thermal collectors; fans blew warm air from over the array to heat storage bins.
  • The Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) was formed. The organization represents the interests of the solar industry and acts as a lobbying group in Washington, DC.
  • The Solar Energy Research Institute (SERI) was formed (now the National Renewable Energy Laboratory [NREL]), a national laboratory that provides research and development support for solar and photovoltaic technologies.
  • The Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act (PURPA) of 1978 mandated the purchase of electricity from qualifying facilities that meet certain standards on energy source and efficiency.
  • A 15% energy tax credit was added to an existing 10% investment tax credit, providing incentive for capital investment in solar thermal generation facilities for independent power producers.
  • California enacted a 25% tax credit for the capital costs of renewable energy systems.
  • Solar One, a 10-megawatt central receiver demonstration project, was first operated and established the feasibility of power tower systems. In 1988, the final year of operation, the system achieved an availability of 96%.
  • California’s Standard Offer Contract system provided renewable electric energy systems with a relatively firm, stable market for their output. This system allowed the financing of capital-intensive technologies such as solar thermal-electric.
  • The SEGS I plant (13.8-megawatt) was installed, the first in a series of Solar Electric Generating Stations (SEGS). SEGS I used solar trough technology to produce steam in a conventional steam turbine generator. Natural gas was used as a supplementary fuel for up to 25% of the heat input.
  • Advanco and McDonnell Douglas systems demonstrated the potential for the high-efficiency 25-kilowatt solar dish.
  • Dish/engine systems convert the thermal energy in solar radiation to mechanical energy and then to electrical energy—in much the same way that conventional power plants convert thermal energy from combustion of a fossil fuel to electricity.
  • The Sacramento Municipal Utility District commissioned its first 1-megawatt photovoltaic electricity-generating facility.
  • Federal regulations that govern the size of solar power plants were modified to increase maximum plant size to 80 megawatts from 30 megawatts.
  • Luz International went bankrupt while building its tenth SEGS plant. SEGS I through IX remained in operation.
  • A 7.5-kilowatt dish prototype system became operational, using an advanced stretched-membrane concentrator, through a joint venture of Sandia National Laboratories and Cummins Power Generation.
  • The Energy Policy Act of 1992 restored the 10% investment tax credit for independent power producers, using solar technologies.
  • The first solar dish generator, using a free-piston Stirling engine, was tied to a utility grid.
  • The Corporation for Solar Technology and Renewable Resources, a public corporation, was established to facilitate solar developments at the Nevada Test Site.
  • 3M Company introduced a new silvered plastic film for solar applications.
  • Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) prohibits qualifying facility contracts above avoided costs.
  • A 12-kilowatt solar electric system, in Colorado, was the largest residential installation in the United States to be registered with the U.S. Department of Energy's Million Solar Roofs Initiative. The system provided most of the electricity for the family of eight's 6,000-square-foot home.
  • Home Depot began selling residential solar power systems in three stores in San Diego, California.
  • NASA's solar-powered aircraft, Helios, set a new world altitude record for non-rocket-powered craft: 96,863 feet (more than 18 miles).
  • Students from the University of Colorado built an energy-efficient solar home for the Solar Decathlon, a competition sponsored by the Department of Energy. Student teams integrated aesthetics and modern conveniences with maximum energy production and optimal efficiency. The houses were transported to the National Mall in Washington, DC, where the student team took first prize overall.
  • The Technische Universität Darmstadt won the 2007 Solar Decathlon. The team won the architecture, lighting, and engineering contests.

Last Revised: July 2008
Sources: U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, Solar History Timeline:1900's, October 18, 2007
U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, "Solar Dish Engine," October 21, 2007
Smith, Charles, “History of Solar Power, Revisiting Solar Power’s Past,” Technology Review: July 95: Solar Power
National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Feature: "NREL Teams Up with Boeing Spectrolab to Win R&D 100 Award," July 2007
ASME, “Prime Movers and Power Plants,” August 2007