Harnessing solar energy has transformed the world of energy consumption. If you’re looking for an eco-friendly mode to power your residence, you must think about installing solar panels.

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 on, Edmund Bacquerel coined the term photovoltaic effect that boosted the development of solar energy.

Many more notable names came into the scene 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.

The Early Days

The use of 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 civilizations used this process to light a fire and cook their food. They used solar energy to keep themselves warm and protect themselves from wild animals.

Later on, 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 various religious rituals and for keeping enemies away.

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

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

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

The Invention of the Solar Cell

Roof Solar PanelsIn 1767, Horace-Benedict de Saussure, a Swiss scientist, laid the foundation for the development of solar cells. 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 purposes. The world was amazed by this astonishing invention, but they weren’t prepared for the upcoming developments.

In 1839, French scientist Edmund Bacquerel 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 he exposed it 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 on selenium. They found out that a photovoltaic effect was created 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, which was a massive landmark in solar history.

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

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 spacecrafts.

  • 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 the development of solar power in the future.

The late 1900s

In the late 1900, 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 at a stretch.

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. The ideas of 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 targets for renewable energy production to keep the environment protected.

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

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

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.

At present, the U.K. is the third-highest solar power generating country in the E.U.

To Wrap Up

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

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.