Now that solar power is here, and without a doubt racing toward being a leading source of global electricity, we’ve now got some really cool, established solar power systems. Some on Earth, some above, some giant, some small. The flexibility of solar power is part of its magic.

The First Solar Panel

Charles Fritts is considered the father of solar technology. In 1884 he created the first working solar module and put it atop a building in New York City to test its financial viability. At the time, silicon had not been considered for use, instead selenium was used in addition to an extremely thin layer of gold on the surface. While to device worked, the high cost of materials made the device economically infeasible, and it would take the work of Russell Ohl in the 1930’s to make the next step. Also of interest is that this research was being done before Albert Einstein’s paper on the ‘Photoelectric Effect’ – which became the base knowledge of the modern solar industry.

The First Practical Solar Cell

Created by electrical engineer Gerald Pearson and physicist/chemist Calvin Fuller, the first practical solar cell was displayed on April 25, 1954 at Bell Labs in New Jersey. The technology was quickly adopted into mainstream use, first by telephone companies (1955), then later by the US Department of Defense for vehicles and satellites in space (1958).

The First Solar Plant to cross the 1MW threshold – Lugo PV Station

Lugo PV station, in San Bernardino County, California. For its time, the Lugo plant in Hesperia, California was the largest PV plant in the world. The plant was built by Atlantic Richfield Oil Company in 1982, and not only set the record as the largest PV plant at the time, but was the first PV plant to cross the 1MW barrier. The solar park was never able to compete with fossil fuels during its time, and was eventually shut down and resold for parts.

The World’s Largest Solar Plant – Tengger Desert Solar Park

Tengger Desert Solar Park, in Zhongwei, Ningxia of China. Dubbed the “Great Wall of Solar,” this is currently the largest PV plant in the world in both size and production. Occupying a space of 43 sq km, the massive plant outputs a world record-setting 1,547MW of power.

The World’s Largest Solar Thermal Plant – Ivanpah Solar Plant

Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System, Mojave Desert, California. Finished in 2014, the plant has an output of 392MW, making it the largest solar thermal station in the world. With a price tag of $2.2 billion, the project was developed by BrightSource Energy and Bechtel, and had a $300 million contribution from NRG Energy and a $168 million contribution from Google. Initially planned to be 440MW, the designs were scaled back to “avoid disturbing the desert tortoise”.

Fluffiest Solar Park in the World – Panda Green Energy PV Park

To raise awareness about sustainable development in China, a new novel approach has been taken: cute panda shaped solar parks. This is an actual picture of an operational solar power plant shaped like a panda. Phase 1 of the 250 acre project is already complete, with 50 MW of power being generated, and another 50 MW of power is expected to be added once phase 2 is done. Many more of these bear shaped plants are in the works.

The Best Solar System in Orbit – International Space Station

262,400 solar cells power the International Space Station, which orbits the earth at 4.76 miles/s. The solar arrays cover more than half a football field, and can generate 120 KW of power. While in sunlight, the station diverts 60% of the electricity generated to the batteries, which must support the station while its not in view of the sun.

National Stadium – Taiwan’s Dragon Shaped Stadium Solar System

8,844 solar panels are arranged in a dragon like figure atop Taiwan’s new national stadium. During testing, it took just 6 minutes to power up all of the stadiums 3,300 lights. On days where the stadium is not being used, extra power can be diverted to the community nearby, meeting 80% of the area’s energy needs. The stadium is estimated to generate 1.14 million KWh per year, preventing the release of 660 tons of carbon dioxide into atmosphere annually.

Vanguard 1 – the first satellite powered by a solar cell

Vanguard 1’s mission was to test the launch capabilities of a three-stage vehicle. It was the 2nd satellite launched by the U.S., and the first ever satellite to be powered by photovoltaics in 1958. The satellite’s batteries failed within the year of launch, but the satellite kept working until 1964, thanks to its high tech (at the time) solar-powered transmitter.

Finholhu Villas – Solar Powered Luxury Resorts

Ethical vacations anyone? Finolhu Villas are luxurious island Villas by Club Med in the south Asian country of Maldives.  These luxury resorts are completely self-sustaining, with solar panels built throughout the island.  Referred to in their own words as “energy-saving architecture”, 67,000 sq. ft. of solar panels are built into the resort including an energy storage system.  The 900kw generated is enough to support the staff and guests on the island at anytime.

As an aside – if you want a more in-depth history breakdown, check out the History of Solar Cells on Wikipedia.

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