There was an ad tonight during the New York Jets’ football game against the Denver Broncos from Jets’ sponsor Yingli Solar.
Chinese solar manufacturer Yingli just unveiled their latest large installation in New Jersey, a 650 kilowatt array on the roof of the Jets’ headquarters in Florham Park. It’s an ironic turn of events for the state, and a stark illustration of the global economics of solar panel production, particularly after news reports Friday that the Office of the United States Trade Representative is investigating China’s support for solar manufacturers like Yingli.
I recently wrote an article for The Star-Ledger about the solar panel’s 55th birthday because it was invented at Bell Labs in New Jersey.
In researching the piece, I got to pore over the newspapers’ archives, where I found the state had, as recently as the late 1970′s, been the home of the largest effort in the U.S. to start a solar panel manufacturing industry.
Looking back on a 1977 article by Gordon Bishop called “Jersey spearheads solar-electric drive,” and knowing what we know today, it seems clear that the only way to jump-start a solar manufacturing industry is with massive government supports, like China has done.
Here are some excerpts from Bishop’s piece:
“New Jersey is pioneering the world’s largest solar-electric research effort, ushering in a potential $50 billion solar industry during the next 20 years to help solve the nation’s energy crisis.
Already, Exxon laboratories in Linden and Florham Park have developed the world’s largest capability to produce solar electric systems.
In fact, Exxon provides 50 percent of the solar electric sales for the U.S. Energy Research and Development Administration, and ERDA represents 21 percent of the world’s solar electric market…
From 1970 to 1975, Exxon’s New Jersey operations spent more money on solar-electric research and development than did the federal government – over $5 million…
Exxon’s goal is now to “cover every rooftop in America” with solar panels for hot water, heat, air conditioning and electricity….
…[Dr. A.L.] Shrier, 39, sees the solar market taking off like a space age rocket, reaching worldwide solar-electric sales of $150 billion by the end of this century…
“Oil is on the way out and solar is on the way in,” Shrier said during an interview in his office at the Exxon Building in Manhattan….
“…The maverick” behind the Exxon solar venture is Dr. Elliot Berman, a high-technology specialist who convinced the huge energy conglomerate to get into the sunshine business or face extinction when oil runs out in about 30 years.
Berman’s idea in 1970 was to print solar-electric surfaces on thin photographic film. At that time the cost of generating electricity from sunlight was $300 a watt, compared to five to six cents for electricity generated from oil, coal or nuclear fuel.
The idea was just wild enough to intrigue us,” Shrier recalled. “If we could cut the cost of making solar cells to 50 cents a watt, we could be competitive with conventional power systems.
In seven years, Exxon has been able to reduce the initial cost by a factor of 20. It now stands at $15 watt.
Mass production of the photographic film by the mid-1980s is expected to drive the price down to 50 cents a watt, according to Exxon’s Solar Power Corp., its solar manufacturing arm….”
Of course that 50 cents a watt is still a dream, try $4-$5 a watt…
Here’s my article on the anniversary:
Solar panels invented in N.J. 55 years ago
Published: Tuesday, October 05, 2010, 6:00 AM
It is well-known that New Jersey has covered more rooftops and open spaces with solar panels than any state in the nation, except California.
Less well-known is that solar panels were invented in the Garden State 55 years ago Monday.
Bell Laboratories’ scientists Gerald Pearson, Calvin Fuller and Daryl Chapin designed the first practical photovoltaic cell in the mid-’50s in Murray Hill. The successful first trial of their solar panel, made up of razor blade-sized strips of silicon, was on Oct, 4, 1955, at a telephone carrier in Georgia. Bell Labs went on to supply solar electric power for NASA’s first permanent satellite in 1958.
More than a decade later, New Jersey became the home of the largest solar research and development effort in the United States when Exxon made a large-scale investment in laboratories in Linden and Florham Park.
From 1970 to 1975 Exxon’s New Jersey operations spent more money on solar technology research than the federal government, more than $5 million, according to a 1977 article in The Star-Ledger.
“Oil is on the way out and solar is on the way in,” A.L. Shrier, manager of Exxon Enterprises solar energy division, told The Star-Ledger.
According to Shrier, a scientist named Elliot Berman, who invented technology to print solar-electric surfaces on thin photographic film, had “convinced the huge energy conglomerate to get into the sunshine business or face extinction when oil runs out in about 30 years,” according to the June 6, 1977, article.
Berman’s innovation was expected to reduce the cost of solar energy from $300 a watt to 50 cents a watt, and to launch an industry with worldwide sales of $150 billion by the end of the century.
It hasn’t exactly turned out that way. Solar power remained stubbornly expensive until the past few years, and while the pace of installations has increased dramatically, global revenues last year were still a fraction of Exxon’s prediction, totaling $38.5 billion, according to Solarbuzz, an industry research group.
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