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The History of Solar Energy

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Solar energy history can be traced all the way back to the Ancient Greeks and Romans.

They used to build their houses so the sun would warm them.

As for solar energy history as we know it, it wasn’t until 1839 when French physicist Edmond Becquerel first discovered photovoltaic activity.

This discovery was followed by another Frenchman, Auguste Mouchout, in the 1860’s who invented the first motor to be powered by solar energy.

Charles FrittsIn 1883, Charles Fritz turned the sun’s rays into electricity!

Interest slowed down in the early part of the 20th century, though interest in a solar-powered civilization never completely disappeared.

It was around this time, in fact, that a certain Albert Einstein was awarded the 1921 Nobel Prize in physics for his research on the photoelectric effect.

In 1953, Bell Laboratories scientists Gerald Pearson, Daryl Chapin and Calvin Fuller developed the first silicon solar cell capable of generating a measurable electric current.

The 1970s brought hope that through massive investment in initiatives and research, solar pv costs would drop dramatically, allowing it to become competitive with fossil fuels.

However, it hasn’t been until recently and due to major governmental intiatives of Germany and Japan that the solar industry has strated to take off.

The solar photovoltaic energy market is currently growing at a whopping 30 percent per year.

Meanwhile, solar thermal water heating is an increasingly cost-effective means of lowering gas and electricity demand.

As you’ve seen, technologies have changed and improved for decades. Still, the basics of solar thermal and photovoltaics have remained the same.

Solar Power History

The story of solar power history is a colourful one.

Edmund BecquerelIt was in 1838 that the photoelectric effect was discovered by physicist Edmund Becquerel.

The earliest known record in solar energy history of the direct conversion of solar power into mechanical power belongs to Auguste Mouchout in the 1860’s. He was granted the first patent for a motor running on solar power and is responsible for our basic understanding of solar energy.

In 1892, Aubrey Eneas of Boston, formed the first solar power company, The Solar Motor Co.

However, it wasn’t until the 1950’s that the technology was developed enough to produce efficient working solar cells.

During the 50’s and 60’s solar photovoltaic energy panels were put on satellites and sent into space but it was still too expensive for general use.

Over the next few decades, better technology made panels less expensive and Solar PV was installed in remote locations around the world to provide electricity for people where there was no supply.

And variations of this technology such as the solar oven were also distributed to make cooking in remote areas clean and hygenic.

Grid-connected Solar PV, coupled with solar water heaters has had a massive growth since 1990’s in the more developed countries of the world.

With governmental rebates making solar energy cost effective for the average household in most developed countries, notably Germany, Japan and parts of the USA, the take-up of solar power is gathering momentum.

In hundreds of years in the future when historians look back on solar energy history, our generation will probably be seen as the catalyst of the coming solar power revolution.


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