Solar energy and utilizing solar power from the sun has been something people have used for thousands of years, from cavemen using solar power to start fires, to today, where there are planes, cars, homes, and businesses powered with solar energy.
Solar energy is used through the photovoltaics process, which is the conversion of light into electricity where it can be used. The use of photovoltaics to generate electricity from sunlight has only been discovered around the last two centuries, however, people have been utilizing solar power for other more simple uses for a lot longer.
As early as 700 BC, people used magnifying glass to start fires for cooking and other uses, which was one of the most basic but helpful uses of solar power because of the primitive circumstances people were in at that time. During the 3rd Century BC, it was rumored that Archimedes fought off Roman ships by using brass shields to direct the sun’s rays at ships and catch them on fire, showing that solar energy could be used in times of war as well.
In 1767 Horace de Saussure was credited with coming up with the first solar oven, which was used to heat up food or other materials without the use of fuel, and is something that has continued to be used in different forms today.
The photovoltaic effect, which is the voltage that comes when a material is exposed to light, was discovered in 1839 by Edmond Becquerel, who was only 19 years old at the time, but made a definite impact in the solar energy of today.
In 1873 photoconductivity was discovered in selenium by Willoughby Smith, an English engineer, and a few years later Professor William Grylls Adams, with his student, Richard Evans Day, built upon Smith’s discovery and observed the electricity that is created when a material was exposed to light through an electric current.
The first photovoltaic cell design was created in 1883 by Charles Fritts, an American inventor, who created the cell design using selenium wafers.
Many people are not aware that Albert Einstein also played a role in the process of using solar energy when in 1905 he submitted a paper on the photon theory of light, and in 1921, 16 years after submitting the paper, he received the Nobel Prize for his discoveries.
Jan Czochralski, a Polish scientist, discovered how to grow single-crystal silicon in 1918, which was later used a base for creating solar cells using silicon, another milestone in the process of how solar energy came to be used today.
In 1954, three men were instrumental in the creation of photovoltaic, or solar cells. These men were David Chapin, Calvin Fuller, and Gerald Pearson, all of whom worked for Bell Labs. They were credited with first being able to convert sunlight into electrical power and were also able to raise the conversion efficiency percentage from 4% to 11%. The solar cell they created was the size of a small coin and was able to power a small toy windmill and a radio, and although it wasn’t commercially viable, this did lay the groundwork for solar cell development ever since.
Exxon was also instrumental in lowering the cost of solar panels by creating an efficient panel that cost less to manufacture, which led to more companies being able to afford to install solar panels and use them commercially.
In 1977 the United States government began focusing more on using solar energy by establishing the Solar Energy Research Institute, and soon other governments followed and begin to create initiatives for people and companies to utilize solar power for their needs as a way to lower electricity costs and be more environmentally-friendly.
From 1981-1999, there were solar power aircraft, cars, and solar power plants created, with the largest solar power plant producing more than 20 kilowatts of energy. Solar energy was also used to power space exploration, including for satellites and space stations.
Solar energy today is being used for everything from reducing electrical costs for residential homes to helping those in agricultural and other business entities. Using this natural source of power both saves the environment, unlike other energy sources, and also allows people to use this never-ending source of power for the rest of their lives.
With every passing day, there are more solar energy uses successfully applied. No one knows what the future will hold for additional advancements of solar, but it is very exciting to be part of an industry that can have such a far-reaching effect on people all around the world. If you have any questions regarding how solar can benefit you, feel free to contact us at any time.