October 27, 2008
PHOTOVOLTAIC ENERGY SYSTEMS
By: Kevin E. McCarthy, Principal Analyst
You asked whether the requirement that participants in the photovoltaic (PV) rebate program use an installer approved by the program's administrator, Connecticut Innovations Inc., (CII) is the result of legislation, regulation, or something else. You also requested a brief history of photovoltaics.
REQUIREMENTS UNDER THE PV REBATE
As discussed in OLR Report 2008-R-0562, CII requires that PV systems be installed by firms it has approved, primarily on safety grounds. The requirement is a result of a CII policy decision, rather than legislation or regulation. PA 98-28, which established the Clean Energy Fund, made CII responsible for developing programs to promote solar and other forms of renewable energy and gave CII broad discretion in designing the programs. Under CGS § 16-245n, CII can use the money in the Clean Energy Fund for investments that foster the growth of renewable energy sources and increase demand for renewable energy. CII must make these investments in accordance with a plan that CII develops with the help of an advisory committee. The current plan runs from July 1, 2008 to July 1, 2010 and is available at http://www.ctcleanenergy.com/AboutCCEF/CCEFComprehensivePlan/tabid/355/Default.aspx.
HISTORY OF PHOTOVOLTAICS
PV devices use semiconducting materials to convert sunlight directly into electricity. In 1839 Edmond Becquerel discovered the PV effect while experimenting with an electrolytic cell made up of two metal electrodes placed in an electricity-conducting solution, discovering that the electricity generation increased when exposed to light. In 1876, William Grylls Adams and Richard Evans Day discover that selenium produces electricity when exposed to light. Although selenium solar cells failed to convert enough sunlight to power electrical equipment, they proved that a solid material can change light into electricity without heat or moving parts. In 1904, Wilhelm Hallwachs discovered that a combination of copper and cuprous oxide was sensitive to light. The following year Albert Einstein published a paper on the photoelectric effect for which he subsequently won a Nobel Prize.
In the 1950s, inventors at Bell Labs developed a more efficient PV cell made from silicon, which was the first solar cell capable of generating enough power to run everyday electrical equipment. During that decade, Western Electric began to sell commercial licenses for silicon PV technologies.
Federal support for PV technology was initially tied to the space program, to provide power for the Vanguard satellite. Subsequently, Explorer III, Vanguard II, and Russia's Sputnik-3 were launched with PV-powered systems on board and silicon solar cells became the most widely accepted energy source for space applications.
Legislation adopted in 1978 established a 10% investment tax credit for PV applications and committed $1.2 billion over 10 years to improve PV production levels, reduce costs, and stimulate private-sector purchases. Legislation adopted in 1980 extended the credit and raised residential credit to 40% of the first $10,000 for photovoltaic applications and the business tax credit to 15%. In 1990, a government/industry research and development partnership between the Department of Energy (DOE) and members of the U.S. PV industry was designed to improve manufacturing processes, accelerate manufacturing cost reductions for PV modules, improve commercial product performance, and help increase PV manufacturing capacity. In 1999, construction was completed on 4 Times Square in New York City. The office building has built-in PV panels on the 37th through 43rd floors on its south and west sides to produce part of electricity the building uses.
Much of this information comes from a DOE website, http://www.eia.doe.gov/kids/history/timelines/photovoltaics.html.