AT&T Tech Channel

About this video

Introduction by George Kupczak of the AT&T Archives and History Center

The film opens by showing the sun as the basic source of power on earth -- making possible the growth of plants and crops which sustain life. The sun is shown as the source of mechanical power -- how it affects the winds and water power, and it is also shown as the source of the energy locked in coal and oil. Man's dreams of someday converting the sun's rays directly into usable power are realized, in part, when the solar battery (we'd call it a solar cell, today) was invented in 1954 by three Bell Laboratories scientists: John Pearson, Calvin Fuller, and Daryl Chapin. Here, the camera takes us into the laboratory, and we see how a "Solar Battery" is made and how it works. The film then shows how the solar battery may be used in the phone system as a source of power and explains that the battery holds great promise for the future in other fields as well.

Interestingly enough, Alexander Graham Bell was fascinated with the uses of solar power back in the 1800s. His photophone--a solar telephone--is an example of this. In a late interview in the 20th century, he speculated that people in the future may heat their homes with solar panels.

The first solar cell design from Bell Laboratories was tested in the field on a telephone carrier system in Georgia in 1955. The Bell System used 3,600 solar cells to power the satellite Telstar in 1962, and since then solar has been standard in design for space. However, it took decades for the price of solar cells to come down to where they could compete with other forms of energy--and they are still slow to be adopted in regions with strong sun patterns. Efficiency of solar technology has also greatly improved along the way.

Solar power cost per peak watt:
1976: $55
1984: $12
2001: $3.50

Audience: public and schools
An MPO Production

Footage courtesy of AT&T Archives and History Center, Warren, NJ

Release date: 04/18/2011