Solar industry facts and firsts

Going by memory I would say the solar industry came about in the 1970s. There wasn’t much buzz about it, but I remember noticing a few houses that had weird things up on their rooftops – I don’t know, something about solar water heating?

To test my memory I decided to do a little digging to see if the solar industry began in the 70’s. After conducting my research, what I found is that my memory was off about 90 years, as the first commercial solar water heater was introduced in 1890.

A Little Solar History

Development of the solar cell started back in the 1880s, with the first solar cell patent in 1888.

In 1890, Clarence Kemp introduced the first commercial solar water heater, named the Climax, which consisted of a combined storage and collector in one box.

In California during the 1920s, William Bailey’s Day and Night solar systems came out with the first thermosyphon systems, which consisted of a tank on the roof and the collector below.

Death Valley – late 1920s, one of the largest commercial systems was installed at Scotty’s Castle.

Late 1940s, Florida – Half of Miami households had solar water heaters; however, in the early 50’s electricity became cheap and utility companies gave away electric water heaters to try and push solar out. By ’73 only two full-time solar water heating companies survived.

1955 is the year the first solar-powered car debuted, designed by William G. Cobb.

In 1958, six solar panels were used as back-up power source to the Vanguard I satellite. This was the first significant application of solar cells and allowed the satellite to continue transmitting after its battery was exhausted.

1974 – First solar flight with unmanned Sunrise II plane.

1975 – First solar boat was constructed in England and 20 years later passenger boats incorporating PV panels started sprouting up all over the world.

1979 – First solar powered, fully controlled, manned flight in the Solar Riser.

1979 – 1986 – the 40% Federal tax rebate by Jimmy Carter started a huge surge in solar water systems, resulting in new businesses for hundreds of manufacturers and thousands of contractors and vendors. However the solar industry soon developed a bad reputation for shabby equipment, poor installation, and leaky roofs.

1979ish – US Solar Corp developed and sold the first residential drainback system. The first draindown valve was introduced by Sunspool.

1986 – The Reagan administration took away the 40% tax rebate and replaced it with 10%, oil prices plunged, dropping gas prices down to less than $1 per gallon; people thought the energy crisis was over. These two events destroyed the solar hot water industry. After the end of the tax credit in ’86, over 95 percent of all solar dealers nationwide went out of business.

1997 is the year where solar started taking off again. Photovoltaic production accelerated due to oil supply issues, the need to improve our economic position, and global warming issues.

2000 – 2009 a decade of rewriting history with new developments in technology coming out weekly and a huge demand for solar systems in both residential and commercial to promote healthier living, reduce global warming, and reduce energy costs; tax rebates and incentives are making solar more affordable.

March 25th in Solar Information by Beth.

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