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Solar Innovation Timeline

This timeline features the key innovations that have advanced the solar industry in the United States. Learn more about these key events from 1955 to present. To see more details, either drag the timeline to the left or right or click the (+) icons.

  • Solar Achievements Timeline
    INSTRUCTIONS
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    Click and drag screen or scroll mouse wheel to navigate through timeline.

  • 2011
    INDUSTRY
    Graphic of the U.S. Department of Energy logo. A yellow, rectangular-shaped box with white sunrays pointing diagonally from the top, right-hand corner of the box to the left bottom corner . The words "SunShot" and "U.S. Department of Energy" are displayed horizontally under the rectangular box graphic.

    Advanced manufacturing processes get a SunShot boost

    Graphic of the U.S. Department of Energy logo. A yellow, rectangular-shaped box with white sunrays pointing diagonally from the top, right-hand corner of the box to the left bottom corner . The words "SunShot" and "U.S. Department of Energy" are displayed horizontally under the rectangular box graphic.

    DOE announces three recipients for up to $112.5 million in funding to support the U.S. development of advanced manufacturing processes for solar photovoltaic (PV) modules under SunShot Advanced Manufacturing Partnerships.

    Credit: U.S. Department of Energy

  • 2011
    MARKET
    Graphic of the U.S. Department of Energy logo. A yellow, rectangular-shaped box with white sunrays pointing diagonally from the top, right-hand corner of the box to the left bottom corner . The words "SunShot" and "U.S. Department of Energy" are displayed horizontally under the rectangular box graphic.

    SunShot Initiative announced

    Graphic of the U.S. Department of Energy logo. A yellow, rectangular-shaped box with white sunrays pointing diagonally from the top, right-hand corner of the box to the left bottom corner . The words "SunShot" and "U.S. Department of Energy" are displayed horizontally under the rectangular box graphic.

    DOE announces details of its SunShot Initiative, with the goal of reducing total costs of PV systems by 75% at decade's end, making them competitive with other energy sources.

    California increases its renewable portfolio standard (RPS) target to 33% by 2020.

    Credit: U.S. Department of Energy

  • 2005
    LABORATORY
    Photo of a blue and white, metallic circular mirror with a large antenna pointing toward the sky from the middle of the mirror. A blue sky with clouds are displayed in the background of the photo.

    Sandia investigates Next Generation Collection dishes

    Photo of a blue and white, metallic circular mirror with a large antenna pointing toward the sky from the middle of the mirror. A blue sky with clouds are displayed in the background of the photo.

    Sandia National Laboratories researchers at the National Solar Thermal Test Facility begin developing next-generation solar collection dishes.

    Credit: Sandia National Laboratories, Randy Montoya

  • 2000
    INDUSTRY
    Graphic of the First Solar logo. A red ball displayed above two wavy-type lines, and the words "First Solar" are placed underneath the graphics.

    First Solar opens world's largest PV manufacturing plant

    Graphic of the First Solar logo. A red ball displayed above two wavy-type lines, and the words "First Solar" are placed underneath the graphics.

    First Solar begins production of thin-film PV panels in Perrysburg, Ohio, estimating it can produce enough annually to generate 100 megawatts, a hugh increase over the typical manufacturing capacity.

    Credit: First Solar

  • 1997
    MARKET
    Photo of a white house with a slanted roof, and several vertical , rectangular-shaped panels displayed on top of the roof. Blue sky, and bright-green trees fill the background of the photo.

    Million Solar Roofs Initiative

    Photo of a white house with a slanted roof, and several vertical , rectangular-shaped panels displayed on top of the roof. Blue sky, and bright-green trees fill the background of the photo.

    President Clinton announces the Million Solar Roofs Initiative, designed to slow greenhouse gas emissions and boost U.S. solar industry. PDF, 3.8MB

    Credit: Dennis Schroeder, NREL

  • 1996
    LABORATORY
    Photo of several horizontal rows of black and white-striped, circular shaped discs.

    National Center for Photovoltaics is created

    Photo of several horizontal rows of black and white-striped, circular shaped discs.

    The National Center for Photovoltaics is established to better integrate research efforts at Sandia and NREL.

    Credit: Scott Bryant Photography

  • 1994
    MARKET
    Photo of several circular-shaped mirrors arranged in a circular display, and a large antenna pointing toward the sky from the middle of the display.

    First solar dish generator connected

    Photo of several circular-shaped mirrors arranged in a circular display, and a large antenna pointing toward the sky from the middle of the display.

    The first solar dish generator to use a free-piston Stirling engine is hooked up to the grid.

    Credit: NREL

  • 1994
    LABORATORY
    Photo of two researchers analyzing a thin, circular shaped film under a small light.

    NREL develops 30%-efficient cell

    Photo of two researchers analyzing a thin, circular shaped film under a small light.

    NREL researchers develop a gallium indium phosphide/gallium arsenide solar cell that is more than 30% efficient.

    Credit: David Parsons

  • 1993
    INDUSTRY
    Photo of several rows of horizontal, blue and white, rectangular panels  with a green and blue landscape displayed behind the panels.

    Utility company installs PV distributed system

    Photo of several rows of horizontal, blue and white, rectangular panels  with a green and blue landscape displayed behind the panels.

    Pacific Gas and Electric installs a 500-kilowatt PV system to boost reliability at a substation, gaining measurable benefits.

    Credit: Terry O'Rourke

  • 1991
    LABORATORY
    An aerial photo of several buildings clustered together in front of a mountain range.

    SERI becomes a national lab

    An aerial photo of several buildings clustered together in front of a mountain range.

    DOE designates the Solar Energy Research Institute (SERI) as the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL). PDF, 1.6MB

    Credit: NREL

  • 1990
    LABORATORY
    Photo of a black and yellow cylinder-shaped body on wheels with a window on the top, right-hand side of the cylinder-shaped body. The word Michigan is written on  the side.

    University of Michigan wins Inaugural American Solar Challenge

    Photo of a black and yellow cylinder-shaped body on wheels with a window on the top, right-hand side of the cylinder-shaped body. The word Michigan is written on  the side.

    The University of Michigan's first solar car, the Sunrunner, wins the first American Solar Challenge.

    Credit: University of Michigan

  • 1986
    MARKET TRANSFORMATION
    Photo of several vertical rows of metallic, curved panels displayed outside.

    World's largest solar thermal facility opens

    Photo of several vertical rows of metallic, curved panels displayed outside.

    The world's largest solar thermal electric facility is commissioned in Kramer Junction, CA, using mirrors to heat fluid and produce steam to generate electricity.

    Credit: United Solar Systems Corp.

  • 1986
    INDUSTRY
    Photo of two, black, thin-filmed, rectangular panels displayed on top of each other.

    First Commercial thin-film solar module released

    Photo of two, black, thin-filmed, rectangular panels displayed on top of each other.

    ARCO Solar releases the world's first commercial thin-film solar module.

    Credit: United Solar Systems Corp.

  • 1985
    LABORATORY
    Graphic of the Stanford University logo. The word STANFORD is typed upper case in a large, red font. The word UNIVERSITY is typed upper case in a smaller red font.

    Stanford University creates 25%-efficient cells

    Graphic of the Stanford University logo. The word STANFORD is typed upper case in a large, red font. The word UNIVERSITY is typed upper case in a smaller red font.

    Stanford University creates a solar cell that is 25% efficient using 200X concentration.

    Credit: Standford University

  • 1984
    LABORATORY
    Photo of a hand with a blue glove holding a long, rectangular, black and blue film panel.

    Boeing and SERI share thin-film breakthrough

    Photo of a hand with a blue glove holding a long, rectangular, black and blue film panel.

    Boeing and SERI are honored with an R&D 100 Award for a thin-film solar cell.

    Credit: United Solar Ovonic

  • 1980
    LABORATORY
    Photo of two hands holding a black and white striped, thin film square panel.

    Institute of Energy Conversion exceeds 10% thin-film efficiency

    Photo of two hands holding a black and white striped, thin film square panel.

    The University of Delaware's Institute of Energy Conversion develops the first thin-film cell to exceed 10% efficiency using a multidisciplinary approach.

    Credit: NREL

  • 1980
    INDUSTRY
    Photo of a black and white tower surrounded by several rows of square, metallic panels that are pointing  towards the tower.

    Manufacturer breaks the 1-megawatt barrier for PV modules in a year

    Photo of a black and white tower surrounded by several rows of square, metallic panels that are pointing  towards the tower.

    ARCO Solar is the first company to produce more than 1 megawatt of PV modules in a year.

    Credit: Sandia National Laboratories

  • 1978
    MARKET
    Photo of a circular emblem that displays a man with a helmet, holding a stick and shield, kneeling down next to a baby bear. The emblem has the words Public Utilities Commission – State of California displayed around the edges of the emblem.

    California Passes Solar Rights Act

    Photo of a circular emblem that displays a man with a helmet, holding a stick and shield, kneeling down next to a baby bear. The emblem has the words Public Utilities Commission – State of California displayed around the edges of the emblem.

    California passed its Solar Rights Act of 1978, providing that homeowner associations cannot thwart those installing solar energy systems.

    Credit: State of California Public Utilities Commission

  • 1978
    LABORATORY
    An aerial photo of several buildings clustered together with the desert and blue sky in the background.

    DOE expands the role of laboratories

    An aerial photo of several buildings clustered together with the desert and blue sky in the background.

    DOE boosts PV research on multiple tracks, with the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Sandia, and SERI.

    Credit: Sandia National Laboratories

  • 1977
    LABORATORY
    An aerial photo of several gray buildings in front of a large hill, and a road leading from the main building to the right-side of the photo.

    SERI founded

    An aerial photo of several gray buildings in front of a large hill, and a road leading from the main building to the right-side of the photo.

    SERI, later the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, is established in Colorado.

    Credit: Ersol, 2007

  • 1977
    INDUSTRY
    Photo of two hands in white gloves holding a blue square panel with two vertical, white lines, and several blue, plastic containers displayed in the background of the photo.

    Nebraska Irrigation pumps employ solar cells

    Photo of two hands in white gloves holding a blue square panel with two vertical, white lines, and several blue, plastic containers displayed in the background of the photo.

    An irrigation project in Mead, Nebraska, uses some 100,000 single-crystal silicon solar cells to power irrigation pumps.

    Credit: NREL, Dennis Schroeder

  • 1977
    INDUSTRY
    Graphic of the U.S. Department of Energy logo. The words U.S. Department of are displayed in a smaller green font above the word ENERGY in a larger green font.

    U.S. Department of Energy Formed

    Graphic of the U.S. Department of Energy logo. The words U.S. Department of are displayed in a smaller green font above the word ENERGY in a larger green font.

    After the upheavals caused by the oil crisis, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) is formed. PDF, 2MB

    Credit: U.S. Department of Energy

  • 1972
    MARKET TRANSFORMATION
    Rendered graphic of a satellite in space with a metallic, cylinder-shaped body and two flat panels extending out horizontally.

    PV solar cells used widely in space

    Rendered graphic of a satellite in space with a metallic, cylinder-shaped body and two flat panels extending out horizontally.

    From humble beginnings in the late 1950s, PV solar cells become the dominant power source for about 1,000 U.S. and Russian spacecraft.

    Credit: Entech, Inc.

  • 1972
    LABORATORY
    Black and white photo of  a  slanted roof on a white house. A TV antenna is displayed on the left-hand side of the rooftop, along with 12 rows of solar panels , and a row of bushes in front of the house.

    The Institute of Energy Conversion is founded

    Black and white photo of  a  slanted roof on a white house. A TV antenna is displayed on the left-hand side of the rooftop, along with 12 rows of solar panels , and a row of bushes in front of the house.

    The University of Delaware's Institute of Energy Conversion is founded, becoming the first lab dedicated to solar R&D.

    Credit: University of Delaware

  • 1970
    INDUSTRY
    Photo of a blue square with two white vertical lines, a black circular film with three horizontal lines, a metallic cylinder lying underneath the circular film, and a black piece of film that lays above the cylinder.

    Western Electric patents coating for solar cells

    Photo of a blue square with two white vertical lines, a black circular film with three horizontal lines, a metallic cylinder lying underneath the circular film, and a black piece of film that lays above the cylinder.

    Western Electric researchers are granted patent for anti reflective coating for solar cells.

    Credit: NREL

  • 1962
    INDUSTRY
    Photo of a white satellite with 11 blue squares on top, and 14 blue squares on the bottom. Two horizontal metal bars separate the top from the bottom of the satellite.

    First telecommunications satellite launched

    Photo of a white satellite with 11 blue squares on top, and 14 blue squares on the bottom. Two horizontal metal bars separate the top from the bottom of the satellite.

    Bell Telephone Laboratories launch Telstar, the first telecommunications satellite with solar cells that generate 14 watts.

    Credit: U.S. Department of Energy

  • 1959
    INDUSTRY
    Photo of a blue square panel with rounded edges, and two vertical lines  on the square.

    Manufacturer hits
    10%-PV efficiency

    Photo of a blue square panel with rounded edges, and two vertical lines  on the square.

    Hoffman Electronics creates a 10%-efficiency PV cell that is available commercially.

    Credit: U.S. Department of Energy

  • 1955
    INDUSTRY
    Black and white photo with a man harnessed to the top of a tall telephone pole  with wires running diagonally from the top of the pole to the left-hand side of the photo. The man is fixing a square panel at the top of the telephone pole.

    PV technology is born in the United States

    Black and white photo with a man harnessed to the top of a tall telephone pole  with wires running diagonally from the top of the pole to the left-hand side of the photo. The man is fixing a square panel at the top of the telephone pole.

    Bell Laboratories researchers overcome technical difficulties to create 6%-efficiency PV cell that can be used for everyday equipment.

    Credit: Bell Labs