People have long dreamt of harvesting energy directly from the sun.
That dream became a reality when
And in Singapore, solar cells have been around for more than three decades, warming water for homes and generating electricity for bus shelters and a Pasir Ris fish farm.
In fact, the earliest research started long before a recent national push turned solar energy from a minor curiosity in Singapore into a part of a
In 1839, French physicist Alexandre Edmond Becquerel first noticed small electric currents being produced when metals in an electrolyte solution were exposed to light.
More than a century later, researchers from
The first modern solar cells were made of silicon doped with arsenic and boron, and were able to convert about 6 per cent of the light that hit them into electricity.
Today, solar photovoltaic or PV cells are typically made of a silicon semiconductor material containing deliberately introduced impurities to alter its electronic properties. The material absorbs some of the light that hits it, and electrons within the silicon cell are knocked loose and able to flow freely. The flow of these electrons is a current.
At first, the cost of solar cells was astronomical, at up to
Even so, the 1979 energy crisis caused by the Iranian Revolution sparked renewed interest in solar energy around the world, including Singapore.
Many in landed homes chose to install solar water heaters, which do not generate electricity but simply heat water collected in a tank.
And in 1983, a floating fish farm off Pasir Ris,
Despite foreign investments in electronics manufacturing then, there were only a handful of solar-system manufacturers and installers here in the 1980s.
Among them were Sunergy Manufacturing,
"Local demand was so small, so what we did was mainly for re-exporting," said Compo and Sunseap founder
Research, too, was paltry, said Professor
"We did some work in the early days on the structure of silicon solar cells," said Prof Yoon, who joined the then-
"At that time there was no support, nothing. But as a young faculty member, you're always looking for new research areas. Solar PV was something that was interesting; the dream was to try and see how to squeeze as much efficiency out of silicon as we could."
It ramped up slowly. In 1982, the
And the first solar installation to be connected to the national grid was a 4.2-kilowatt set-up at
In 2007, national support for the industry took a sharp turn.
In 2011, these were topped up with an infusion of
"Finally somebody was willing to fund this sort of research'," Prof Yoon said. "It's nice to look back and think we've come quite far over the years."
In 2010, the Housing Board began installing solar panels en masse on HDB rooftops to power lights and common areas, in a five-year,
Today, the total installed solar capacity here is around 15 to 20 megawatts, a tiny fraction of Singapore's energy needs.
But a White Paper last year by the
"The future of solar will be several gigawatts of solar installed in Singapore," said
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