The first conventional photovoltaic cells were produced in the late 1950s, and throughout the 1960s were principally used to provide electrical power for earth-orbiting satellites. In the 1970s, improvements in manufacturing, performance and quality of PV modules helped to reduce costs and opened up a number of opportunities for powering remote terrestrial applications, including battery charging for navigational aids, signals, telecommunications equipment and other critical, low-power needs.
In the 1980s, photovoltaics became a popular power source for consumer electronic devices, including calculators, watches, radios, lanterns and other small battery-charging applications. Following the energy crises of the 1970s, significant efforts also began to develop PV power systems for residential and commercial uses, both for stand-alone, remote power as well as for utility-connected applications. During the same period, international applications for PV systems to power rural health clinics, refrigeration, water pumping, telecommunications, and off-grid households increased dramatically, and remain a major portion of the present world market for PV products. Today, the industry’s production of PV modules is growing at approximately 25 percent annually, and major programs in the U.S., Japan and Europe are rapidly accelerating the implementation of PV systems on buildings and interconnection to utility networks.