Solar energy isn’t as mysterious of a technology as it once seemed! In fact, solar energy can power all sorts of things nowadays – from cell phone charges to car batteries, trucks to homes, solar is the trend of the present and the wave of the future. Even though many of us are familiar with the concept of solar energy, have you ever stopped to think about where it came from?
Believe it or not, solar energy has been around for a few centuries, but its meaning has changed over time. Let’s take a look at how the evolution of solar energy and the use of photovoltaics helped transform the industry we know today.
When Was it First Used?
Back in the 7th century B.C., historians tell us that humans used sunlight to light fires with magnifying glass materials. This practice continued with the Greeks and Romans in 3rd century B.C. when they harnessed “solar power with mirrors to light torches for religious ceremonies.” This practice became normalized and the tool in which people started these fires in ancient civilization were called “burning mirrors”.1
Have you ever sat in a sunroom and enjoyed the warmth of the light coming through the big glass windows? Well, so have many Romans and other ancient civilizations when they used this design to direct sunlight into concentrated areas. For example, the Romans used this exact method to warm their iconic bathhouses.
Fast forward to the late 1700s and 1800s, when scientists could power makeshift ovens with sunlight over long voyages. Not only were sailors able to power these ovens, but they were also able to harness the power of the sun to produce solar-powered steamboats. It’s clear that even thousands of years before the invention of modern-day solar panels, capitalizing on the power of the sun in daily life was a common practice.1
Who Invented Photovoltaics?
Nearly 200 years ago, French scientist Edmond Becquerel accidentally discovered the photovoltaic effect. He experimented with an “electrolytic cell made up of two metal electrodes placed in an electricity-conducting solution” which resulted in an electricity generation increase when exposed to light. This was one of the many contributing factors to the invention of solar panels.
When Were Solar Panels Invented?
While the development of solar panel technology didn’t come to fruition until the late 1800s, there were many contributors to its evolution. In 1873, Willoughby Smith discovered selenium had photoconductive potential, “leading to William Grylls Adams’ and Richard Evans Day’s 1876 discovery that selenium creates electricity when exposed to sunlight.”1 Shortly after this discovery, in 1833, Charles Fritts invented the first solar cells made from selenium wafers. This earned him credit from many historians for the invention of solar cells.1
However, today’s solar panels are made with silicon instead of selenium. With this in mind, many credit Daryl Chaplin, Calvin Fuller and Gerald Pearson with the invention of the first solar panel in 1954. This was made at Bell Labs and was a silicon photovoltaic cell, marking the true invention of P.V. technology because it was the first time that solar-powered an electric device for several hours.1 This silicon solar cell could only convert the sunlight at four percent efficiency. This is less than a quarter of what modern cells are capable of.1
Major Events in the History of Solar
- Solar panels in outer space– In 1958, the Vanguard I satellite used a tiny one-watt panel to power its radios. Later that year the Vanguard II, Explorer III and Sputnik-3 were all launched with PV technology on board. In 1964, NASA was responsible for launching the first Nimbus spacecraft, a satellite able to run entirely on a 470 watt solar array.1
- First solar residence- In 1973, the University of Delaware was responsible for constructing the first solar building, named “Solar One.” The system ran on a hybrid supply of solar thermal and solar PV power.1
- Solar-powered airplanes- In 1981, Paul MacCready built Solar Challenger, the first aircraft to run on solar power, and flew it across the English Channel from France to the U.K.NASA broke that record in 2001 when they reached 96,000 feet with their non-rocket aircraft.1
Going Solar with Momentum
Here at Momentum, we understand how important it is for families to make a seamless transition to solar power. This is why our team handles each part of the process from start to finish and is with you every step of the way. No matter the size of your solar project, Momentum is ready guide you to clean, price-protected energy! So, if you are looking to make the switch or want to learn even more about solar energy, our team is just a phone call away.
Give us a ring at 1-888-MOMENTUM!
Photograph of Edmond Becquerel circa 1839. Source https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henri_Becquerel