HE TRUTH IS THAT the most important technological work done to capture solar energy during the 1970s didn’t come from the tool freaks. Instead, an oil company funded the research that enabled solar photovoltaic cells to get radically cheaper. Esso, which rebranded as Exxon in 1973, supported the work of Elliot Burman, a chemist who led the Solar Power Corporation’s efforts to cut the costs of solar energy. Under Burman’s leadership, the company drove down the cost of producing a solar module about an order of magnitude, from $100 per watt in 1970 to $10 per watt in 1973.1
The Solar Power Corporation successfully adapted what had become a space-bound technology for regular commercial operations on earth.
The Exxon team ...