Harnessing solar energy has transformed the world of energy consumption. Consider installing solar panels if you want an eco-friendly mode to power your residence.

Even if they seem to be the new kid on the block, their history goes back to the 7th century B.C. Scientist Charles Fritz created the first solar cell in the 1800s. Later, Edmund Becquerel coined the term photovoltaic effect, which boosted solar energy development.

Many more notable names emerged later, transforming the solar power generation industry into what we see today. Want to know more about the history of solar power? We have it all covered in this blog.

Key Takeaways

  • Solar energy utilisation dates back to ancient civilisations, with practices like using magnifying glasses and mirrors to harness sunlight for various purposes.
  • The invention of the solar cell began with Horace-Benedict de Saussure’s solar oven in 1767 and progressed with Edmund Bacquerel’s discovery of the photovoltaic effect in 1839.
  • The modern era saw significant advancements, including the development of the first semiconductor solar cell in 1946 and the creation of modern photovoltaic cells in 1954, leading to the widespread adoption of solar energy in spacecraft and residential properties.

The Early Days

Solar energy can be traced back to the 7th century B.C. when people used a magnifying glass to harness the sun’s power to create a fire. Ancient civilisations used this process to light a fire and cook their food. They use solar energy to keep themselves warm and protect themselves from wild animals.

Later, in the third century B.C., the Romans and the Greeks used mirrors to reflect sunlight and light their torches. They also used solar power for religious rituals and to keep enemies away.

In addition, some homes had unique windows installed that let sunlight heat their water tanks and warm the interiors.

The Chinese also started using “burning mirrors” to light up their torches for religious occasions. A story says that the Greek Navy used a huge bronze shield to reflect the sunlight and burn their enemy’s ship!

So, solar power and the utilisation of sunrays were becoming news, and more people wanted to look at it.

The Invention of the Solar Cell

Roof Solar PanelsIn 1767, a Swiss scientist, Horace-Benedict de Saussure laid the foundation for solar cell development. He developed a solar oven, an insulated box with three layers of glass for magnifying sunrays.

This solar oven could reach a temperature of 110 °C, capture the thermal radiation and use it for heating. The world was amazed by this astonishing invention, but they weren’t prepared for the upcoming developments.

1839, French scientist Edmund Becquerel discovered the photovoltaic effect, the working theory behind modern solar panels. He figured this out while working with an electrolytic cell and two metal electrodes.

Edmund observed that the cell produced more energy when exposed to sunlight. Later on, in 1873, Willoughby Smith discovered that selenium could be used as an efficient conductor. Suddenly, everyone was looking into solar energy!

Further developments

Right after Smith’s discovery, Richard Evans Day and William Grylls Adams decided to apply the photovoltaic theory to selenium. They discovered a photovoltaic effect when they lit up a junction between platinum and selenium, which produced electricity.

A few years after this discovery, American scientist Charles Fritts developed the world’s first solar cell using selenium wafers in 1883. This development can be considered the foundation for modern solar cell engineering.

Some notable events during this period –

  • In 1888, Russian physicist Aleksandr Stoletov used the Photoelectric effect and devised a photoelectric cell.
  • In 1891, the first solar heater was developed.
  • Albert Einstein published a paper on the photoelectric effect and made solar energy known across the globe.

The Modern Era – 1900s

Albert Einstein’s paper on the photoelectric effect in 1905 took solar energy to another level. Inspired by him, William J. Bailey manufactured a copper collector that improved the efficiency of the additional collector device in 1908.

Subsequently, in 1946, Russell Ohl developed the first semiconductor solar cell, a massive landmark in solar history.

By the 1950s, global warming had become famous, and people were getting worried. The possible depletion of fossil fuels gave rise to the requirement for a renewable energy source.

Thus, in 1954, leading scientists Calvin Fuller, Daryl Chaplin, and Gerald Pearson at Bell Laboratories developed the modern photovoltaic cell. The U.S. Signal Corps Laboratories installed these cells in satellites orbiting the earth.

Slowly, solar energy started becoming popular and getting included in various spacecraft.

  • In 1958, satellites Vanguard I, Vanguard II, Sputnik-3 and Explorer III implemented solar panels.
  • NASA developed a satellite called Nimbus, which ran on a solar panel array.

Both these events were highly significant and paved the way for future solar power development.

The late 1900s

In the late 1900s, particularly in 1970, the USA suffered a shortage of energy resources. The economy was also unstable, and some form of innovation was the need of the hour.

So, U.S. President Jimmy Carter decided to install solar panels on the White House’s roof. This was a move to spread awareness about solar energy and steer more people towards using clean energy.

Solar Panels on RoofPeople started realising the benefits of using a cleaner energy source but were unsure about the expenses. They also wanted to buy something highly efficient. Bell Labs’ solar sales offered 4% of efficiency, which later increased to 11%. This allowed users to power their electronic gadgets for many hours.

Things took a sharp turn in 1959 when Hoffman Electronics introduced solar panels with 10% efficiency, which increased to 14% in the next year. It made solar energy even more popular among households and space programs.

Significant developments during the late 1900s include –

Solar energy started being utilised in corporate and residential properties. Implementing solar farms and using solar panels in cars were also getting popular.

Commercialisation of Solar Energy

From the early 2000s, solar panels started becoming available for everyone. Till 2010, more energy capacity has been added every year, which is higher than any other sector.

Subsequently, the E.U. established mandatory renewable energy production targets to protect the environment.

Can you see how far solar energy has come since its invention?

Today, solar installations have become popular worldwide across offices and residences. The U.K. observed more than 1 million solar panel installations and purchases within six years.

Currently, buying and installing solar panels have become more affordable than before. That’s why, in 2019, the U.K. Government shut down the Feed-in Tariff system. In addition to this, developing solar plants have also become convenient and popular.

The British government has increased the VAT on solar installations from 5% to 20% to maintain the E.U. rules.

The U.K. is the third-highest solar power generating country in the E.U.

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To Wrap Up

There have been many changes in the solar power industry since its invention. Earlier, it was a luxury for only selected users, but it is now affordable and accessible for everyone. Its applications are endless, from solar batteries in watches to panels in homes and smart cars.

As the world moves towards cleaner energy sources, you can consider solar power the need of the hour. So, if you have the option and the accommodation, opt for a solar panel to power your home.

About the Author

Solar Panels Network stands at the forefront of solar energy solutions, driven by a team of seasoned solar engineers and energy consultants. With over decades of experience in delivering high-quality solar installations and maintenance, we are committed to promoting sustainable energy through customer-centric, tailored solutions. Our articles reflect this commitment, crafted collaboratively by experts to provide accurate, up-to-date insights into solar technology, ensuring our readers are well-informed and empowered in their solar energy decisions.