How did the photovoltaic (solar electric) industry of the 70’s, 80’s, 90’s and 2000’s get its start?

It started in the stars high above the earth with solar panels or modules as they are supposed to be called, attached to the first small satellites. Spectrolab in Texas made 40% efficient solar cells for NASA, no one makes 40% efficient cells for land use, they are only 20% at best. So that just shows you what’s to come. It was the marijuana growers of the 70’s who brought solar panels down to earth. With nothing left to do after the Vietnam War ended they left San Francisco burnt out and looking for something better. Many were well educated Berkeley types. Some were still into nature, love, and spirituality, some were intellectuals but one thing is for sure they all smoked pot.\r\n\r\n \r\n\r\nIn Garberville hidden in the huge Redwood Forest was a small community that was known for the best bud in the world, the place was perfect for growing pot in the summer. They figured out that solar panels enabled them to pump water from the Russian River’s tributaries and irrigate some of the most fertile ground in the lower 48. At the time a kid working for a solar panel factory in Tempe out West was asked to do some fun research on the market potential of residential PV. At that time Governmental funded R&D and telecommunication systems located on mountain tops, were able to absorb the high $/W cost of PV at the time. Anyway, this guy is ordered by his company to take his wife and 3 year old daughter to S.F. get himself a hotel overlooking Pier 39 then to head north. He told me he couldn’t believe they were all there. It was his family’s first trip to S.F. and an all expense paid business trip during the Holidays at that.\r\n\r\n \r\n\r\nHis trip went smoothly, but to make sure he said,”I thought to look like the locals, so I stopped off at a local dry cleaners just outside of Garberville and went in and asked if they had any old unclaimed clean clothes. I got a quilted vest and a nice dry cleaned flannel shirt for $4.” So with his wife and baby in tow he proceeded from little town to little town through Humboldt county, Ca. looking for stores selling solar panels. It wasn’t long when he hit two of them in Willits, pop. 2,440. The first one was beautifully painted all over to look like , well, graffiti art but better and way ahead of its time, with lots of colors and great design, really well done with lots of talent. He said that when he walked in, there in front of the weighing scales of various sizes and types, hoe’s, pipes, grow lights, tie dyed everything, kites, health food, incense, candles and crystals were a half dozen ARCO solar panels and some 12 volt lights, pumps, tubing, batteries and  strange things called DC to AC Heart inverters. It was called Real Goods. “Then the owner came out, I played it cool. Although I felt guilty not introducing myself, I thought, well it’s not illegal. So I   jumped into the car and took off to see the next local dealer we could find. We found it, two blocks away. Padulla Lumber and the owner Jim Padulla.” Jim was kinda scary not like the big bear John Schafer of Real Goods. Padulla was in the lumber business which made him a bad guy right off the bat but he was  cool. He was in it to be cooler than than a lumber guy and to make more money and to do something innovative. He was also a hunter so he invited me over to his house once and we sat around eating venison that he had cooked for us.\r\n\r\nTo be continued. (It’s 4:14 am)\r\n\r\nOk so you should have figured out by now that this kid and his new wife and baby was me.. Great so now it will be much easier to finaih up this self serving marketing ploy.  Anyway Padulla Lumber had a great, but small PV display also with ARCO (Atlantic Richfield Corporation) modules. The biggest they sol,d or practically any of the 4 manufacturers in the world , at the time sold, were 35 wat panels, 1′ by 4’s. About a year later the rest of the industry came out with a 40 then 45 then 50 then 55 watts.. I was lucky that I had Photowatt’s new 55 watt modules with 5 inch round cells, They were all pretty much round cells back then. I thought the round cells would just get bigger till they were the he size of record albums.\r\n\r\nOur Tedlar was yellow because at the time we knew everybody’s Tedlar and/or EVA was going to be yellow in hot climates,so we at Photowatt, thought better, to at least temper the discolorated moduels and figured, well if you can’t beat’em join’em. It would’nt beas a noticieable was the idea.\r\n\r\nAlso in Wilits was another PV distributor, I apologize I can’t rin the early years , say remember the name but this guy was highly educated in the PV, electrical, mechanical, consturction and electric vehicle fields. He had one of everything thtn could be solar powered(motorcycle, lawn mower, tractor, etc. and his showroom showed he was a master carpenter, one of the most beautiful showrooms I have ever seen.\r\n\r\nThen I heard about a place in Redway, Ca. about 10 miles off the highway deeper into the ancient stands of redwoods. It was so  beautiful up there. ANyway we went to the place we had been directed to and pulled up and up on the roof wa what looked like an old washing machine, the sky was dark with clouds and in we went Dad, Mom and our 3 year old daughter in our local style with a brand new 5 inch 55 watt solar panel and everyone at AEE gave us the biggest welcome, the blace was hoping with energy. The owner Dave Katz who became the official leader and expert in the solar industry greeted us with his typical humor, “Oh great we don’t have to see those guys from ARCO anymore in their three piece suits,” Charlie, Anna, Roger, Dave and it’s been too long to remember the others names, forgive me, are all great people. Now it has been sold twice but Dave still owns part of it. It’s just not the same company anymore. Dave is partners with Sequoia Smith at Backwoods Solar in Montana now but he still lives in Northern California.\r\n\r\nBob McGinnis and the CEO of Photowatt wanted me to try to sell him a pallet of like 44 modules for for $7/W. In the end I sold them for $6/W. But when I returned that week, I was a hero for having sold an entire pallet !!!!                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  A big thank you is due to America’s marijuana growers in California, Oregon, Wa., Tenn. Colo.and Hi. other wise the solar industry would have taken several more years to get where it is today.\r\n\r\nAlthough more simply designed solar incentives would be appreciated. Just change the Tax Credit back to a Rebate. That would be fast, simple and easy to do. After all who has an income these days with a tax liability.\r\n\r\nAt that time the solar off-grid residential market became the largest PV market in the United States with possibly the only exception of the telecom market.\r\n\r\nJohn Kimball\r\n\r\nOwner of Sun Electronics Int., Inc.\r\n\r\n305-710-9645\r\n\r\njohn@sunelec.com\r\n\r\nwww.sunelec.com\r\n\r\n \r\n\r\n \r\n\r\n \r\n\r\n \r\n\r\n 

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