A Brief History of Solar Energy

A Brief History of Solar Energy

While solar energy has exploded in popularity and availability in the last two decades, it has a long history. Humans have been harnessing the power of the sun for thousands of years, and even the modern idea of solar-generated electricity dates back to 1839.

We’re excited about both the past and the future of solar energy. Because every year brings new advancements in technology along with reductions in cost. Today, we’ll look at a brief history of solar-generated electricity – from its initial conception in the first half of the nineteenth century through the latest advances of 2018.

Initial Discovery

While people have been using the power of the sun as far back as ancient Greece, the modern concept of solar-generated electricity was born in 1839.

The photovoltaic effect was discovered by French physicist Alexandre-Edmond Becquerel at the age of only 19. He was the son of another famous scientist, Antoine Cesar Becquerel, and was working in his laboratory when he made the discovery.

This early discovery was achieved by exposing silver chloride submerged in an acidic solution to sunlight. When the silver chloride was connected to platinum electrodes, voltage and current were generated.

It was an exciting discovery, but the effect was limited and it would be decades before solar power became a realistic option for electric generation.

Early Advances

While these early solar cells were far from efficient, they provided hope for clean energy. The technology took another step forward in 1884 when American inventor Charles Fritts creating the first working selenium cell in 1883.

By 1884 Fritts had installed a rooftop array in New York City. It was another big advance, but the technology still suffered from low efficiency and high costs.

Over the next fifteen years, several patents were issued as solar technology continued to advance. Then, in 1905, Albert Einstein published a paper that explained the photoelectric effect. His research became vital to the expansion of solar technology.

The Modern Age

Advances in solar technology continued to increase through the first half of the twentieth century. And in 1954, Bell Labs developed the modern photovoltaic cell with an efficiency of about 6%.

This development allowed for solar power to be used in a wide range of practical application, and by the early 60’s solar cells were being used to power communications satellites. The energy crisis of the late 70’s created an increased interest and awareness around solar energy and in 1979 President Jimmy Carter installed solar panels on the White House.

By 1985, solar cells reached an efficiency of 20%, while other advances continued to lower the cost of manufacturing and installing a solar array.

Into the Twenty-First Century

The turn of the millennium ushered in a deepened understanding of the impact of fossil fuels on the environment.  This understanding, coupled with the technological advancements of the late twentieth century, created the perfect opportunity for solar power to flourish.

A wide range of groups all worked toward solar success. The solar capabilities of the White House were extended under George W. Bush and Barack Obama, and in 2007 the Vatican began installing solar panels on their buildings while Google began its solar panel project as well.

This increase in interest has been boosted by massive increases in efficiency. In 2016, the University of New South Wales announced that they had reached efficiency levels of 34.5%.

A Bright Future

The last 150 years have been an exciting time for solar power, but the future is even more exciting. Increases in efficiency will continue – maximizing the existing surface area for energy production.

Increases in technology and production also mean a decrease in costs for the end consumer. Already, the cost per watt of solar power has dropped from $76 in 1977 to $0.30 in 2015. As the price continues to drop, solar power will become more and more feasible for the everyday consumer.

The future of solar power is bright – and continues to get brighter. At Mountain Power Solutions, we’re excited to be a part of that future and we want to share that with our customers. Contact us today to see how we can make solar a part of your future.