Although harnessing the sun's energy has fascinated the world’s scientific community for centuries, it was not until the Arab oil embargo of 1973 that the virtues of solar power leapt into the global consciousness.
The Embargo – announced by OPEC on October 17, 1973 – caused world oil prices to almost double overnight, and illustrated the degree to which western economies relied upon fossil fuels.
In more recent times, the environmental costs of burning fossil fuels have seen the world's interest in solar energy systems gather even more momentum. With issues such as global warming and carbon emissions now scientifically proven and firmly on the political agenda, the demand for photovoltaic technologies is set to continue apace.
Here are some key milestones in the rise of solar energy:
1976 The NASA Lewis Research Center starts installing 83 photovoltaic power systems across the globe, to provide vaccine refrigeration, room lighting, medical clinic lighting, telecommunications, water pumping, grain milling and classroom television.
1977 Worldwide photovoltaic production exceeds 500 kilowatts.
1982 Volkswagen of Germany begins testing photovoltaic arrays mounted on the roofs of Dasher station wagons, generating 160 watts for the ignition.
1983 Worldwide photovoltaic production exceeds 21.3 megawatts.
1985 The University of New South Wales breaks the 20% efficiency barrier for silicon solar cells under 1-sun conditions.
1992 A 7.5 kilowatt prototype dish system using an advanced stretch membrane concentrator becomes operational.
1994 The first solar dish generator using a free-piston Stirling engine is connected to an existing utility grid.
1996 The world's most advanced solar-powered airplane, the Icare, with 3,000 super-efficient solar cells, flies over Germany.
1999 Worldwide photovoltaic production exceeds 200 megawatts.
2000 Astronauts at the International Space Station begin installing solar panels on what becomes the largest solar power array deployed in space.
2002 Japan installs 25,000 solar rooftops on homes throughout the country.
2003 Global investment in solar and wind power exceeds US$20 billion per annum.
2004 Suntech's output capacity places the company in the top 10 in the world and no.1 in China.
2006 Worldwide photovoltaic production exceeds 2500 megawatts.