Tom Dyer, Senior Vice President, Government Affairs for Kyocera Solar, Inc., has devoted his 40-year career to developing and commercializing solar photovoltaic (PV) energy systems, and has quite a tale to tell.
Tom got into solar by happy accident in 1972, when he joined Spectrolab, a company that developed solar technologies for the U.S. space program: “In the early 1970s, the U.S. energy crisis was so bad that cars lined up at gas stations every other day, depending on whether their license plates were even- or odd-numbered,” he recalled. “My boss wanted to start a terrestrial solar cell program for use ‘here on Earth,’ and I was intrigued by the idea.” As project manager, Tom contributed to solar industry standards relating to cell fabrication, module packaging, system specification and sizing.
There were challenges in designing solar modules for terrestrial vs. space use. When developing solar technology, NASA emphasized the weight of the equipment, valuing watts per pound, but on Earth dollars per watt was — and still is — the name of the game. Thus began the challenge of lowering the cost of solar cells. “We also had to repackage solar cells so they would last for years despite the contaminants and moisture on Earth,” Tom stated. “This was imperative in making solar a viable energy source.”
The first practical application for solar in the U.S. was on lighted buoys in the Gulf of Mexico. They ran on batteries, which had to be periodically changed — a labor-intensive process. Solar power recharged the batteries, thus producing a continuously operating system.
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