[Table of Contents]People old and young enjoy waxing nostalgic about
and learning some of the history of early electronics. Popular Electronics was published from October 1954 through April
1985. As time permits, I will be glad to scan articles for you. All copyrights (if any) are hereby acknowledged.
You say "solar battery, "I
say, "solar cell." The nomenclature has evidently changed since the time when commercializable solar cells first
came on the scene. Conversion efficiency rates of 6% are heralded, enough they say so that "...a wafer-thin slab
of crystal, 4 ft. x 15 ft., either resting on or built into the roof of a house, could supply enough current to
operate all the lights, stove, refrigerator, and other appliances in the house - 24 hours a day." Even with
today's efficiencies in the 20% realm, you couldn't power much of a house on a 4 x 15 ft. array. Maybe they meant
if you had a gas lights, and a gas powered refrigerators( yes, they exist) and a gas stove!
Sun's Rays Used in New Invention
universe's greatest source of potential power - even greater than the atom - has been harnessed experimentally and
offers great promise for future commercial applications.
A solar battery, the first successful device to
convert useful amounts of the sun's energy directly and efficiently into electricity, has been demonstrated by the
Bell Telephone Laboratories.
With an amazingly simple - looking apparatus made of strips of silicon, the
scientists demonstrated how the sun's rays could be used to power the transmission of voices over telephone wires.
These strips are extremely sensitive to light. Linked together electrically, they can deliver power at a rate of
50 watts per square yard.
G. L. Pearson. D. M. Chapin. and C. S. Fuller of Bell Labs checking sample devices for amount of electricity
derived from "sunlight" (lamps).
The solar battery, composed of strips of specially prepared silicon. has been used to power transmission of
voices over telephone wires.
A toy Ferris wheel which receives its power from light falling on a tiny piece of silicon. It was used to
According to the Laboratories, it is possible to achieve 6 percent efficiency in converting sunlight directly into
electricity. This compares favorably with the efficiency of steam and gasoline engines in contrast with other
photoelectric devices which have never been rated higher than about 1 percent.
With improved techniques, the Bell Laboratories' scientists expect to be able to increase this efficiency
substantially. Nothing is consumed or destroyed in the energy conversion process and there are no moving parts so,
theoretically, the solar battery should last indefinitely.
The specially prepared silicon used is obtained, originally, from common sand, one of the world's most
abundant materials. Silicon is a semiconductor, chemically related to germanium, the material used in most
transistors. Silicon has a much greater electronic stability at higher temperatures than other semiconductors.
Although work is still in the laboratory stage, actual use of the solar battery in telephone work is a strong
possibility. For example, silicon solar batteries might be used as power supplies for low-power mobile equipment
or as sun-powered battery chargers which could be used at amplifier stations along a rural telephone system such
as that now being tested at Americus, Georgia. This system, using transistors, points to greatly increased service
on rural telephone lines without the addition of new wires.
Although the sun supplies over a thousand
trillion (1,000,000,000,000,000) kilowatt hours of energy daily-comparable with all the reserves of coal, oil,
natural gas, and uranium found on earth-man has never been able to convert more than a small fraction of this
energy directly to his use.
WADC Engineers Also Convert Sun's Energy Into Electricity
Another successful attempt at
converting light into electrical energy has been reported by the Wright Air Development Center in Ohio.
Their method differs from that of the Bell Labs development in that cadmium sulfide was used in place of silicon.
Donald C. Reynolds and Lt. Col. Gerard M. Leies discovered the excellent properties of this substance while
collecting data for rectifiers.
The barrier layer cell, as developed by the WADC scientists, consists of cadmium sulfide processed into
crystal form. The crystal used in the first model was about the size of a sugar cube but it need be only wafer
thin to work efficiently.
Although the first model was crude, the inventors foresee that with several
improvements and by hooking a number of the units into relays it is possible to step up the voltage to unlimited
quantities. According to their report, the conversion powers are so great that a wafer-thin slab of crystal, 4 ft.
x 15 ft., either resting on or built into the roof of a house, could supply enough current to operate all the
lights, stove, refrigerator, and other appliances in the house - 24 hours a day.
Sunlight provides the power to turn this motor-driven
wheel held by D. M. Chapin, one
of the three inventors
of the Bell solar battery.
Detailed and close-up views of the razorblade-sized
silicon strips. The strips are
connected in series in
device shown here.