History of Solar Power: The Key To The Future Lies In The Past

As the days go by, we keep hearing more and more about greenhouse gases, depleting ozone layer, climate change, global warming. It seems like nearly every research theme has focused on mitigating, preventing or coping with the consequences of one or all of the above.

Here, we decided to pay particular attention to solar energy. It is undoubtedly one of the most widely discussed alternatives for “green” energy production.

As it is with everything, there are always people for or against, however what makes solar energy particularly interesting, is that encourages people to think what is really valuable and worth investing in.

Now, what are the advantages? Well, first and foremost, there are no greenhouse gases being emitted. Moreover, the energy (if we don’t consider installation and maintenance of the plants and panels) is infinitely free. Solar energy stimulates decentralization in sunny locations, which quite often are isolated. This creates jobs, and allows avoiding price volatility, as it is the case with the fossil fuel. And last, but not least, because solar does not rely on mining of raw materials, the energy production does not need distraction of forests and eco-systems.

To avoid being biased, it is probably wise to go over the disadvantages as well. Firstly, solar does not work at night due to the need of sunlight. The production process is still relatively inefficient due to the need of vast surface area. The storage facilities are not yet optimized, and the panels, especially the higher-efficiency ones, are quite large. And, unfortunately, the biggest disadvantage is the solar energy cost associated with installation and maintenance of the panels.

To be fair, ultimately, it always comes down to economics and politics. Many governments encourage the use of solar energy with subsidies and tariffs, as it is seen in California, however history shows that long-term incentives and economic crisis might change people’s views drastically, an example from Spain.

But, there is great potential. The idea has been developing since the 1700s and major breakthroughs have encouraged people to continue improving and developing the sector. We will now briefly go over the milestones and will let you, as a reader, decide whether all this past effort makes it worth to invest more time and resources. We certainly believe it does!

History of Solar Energy    

1767, Construction of the First Solar Collector
The first solar collector was created in 1767 by the Swiss scientist Horace-Benedict de Saussure. It was an insulated box covered with three layers of glass to absorb heat energy.

1839, Definition of Photovolataic Effect
In 1839, the photovoltaic effect was discovered by the French scientist Edmond Becquerel. He accomplished this using two electrodes placed in an electrolyte, establishing that electricity increased after exposing this electrolyte to the light.

1873, Selenium and its Photo Conductivity

The year of 1873 will be remembered with the discovery of photoconductivity of a material known as selenium by Willoughby Smith. Three years later, Smith also noted that the element produces solar energy. His researched led to a breakthrough realization that solid could convert light into electricity without heat or moving parts.

1883-1891 Light and Solar Cells
This period proved to be extremely significant for the development of solar energy. Year 1893 is marked with the introduction of the first solar cell. In 1887, Heinrich Hertz discovered the ultraviolet ray capacity to initiate a spark jump between electrodes. Shortly after, in 1891, the first solar heater was produced.

1908, Construction of the Copper Collector
This invention belongs to William J. Baileys, who, in 1908, came up with a copper collector made of copper coils and boxes, incorporating copper insulation. This is still used in manufacturing today.

1916, Proof of Einstein’s Photoelectric Effect
Although Einstein published the theory of the photoelectric effect back in the year 1905, the proof did not come until year 1916, when the scientist Robert Millikan tested it experimentally.
1958, The first commercial use of Solar Energy
Solar energy was officially introduced to the commercial sector, powering space exploration equipment such as satellites and space stations.

1959-1970, Efficiency of Solar Cells and Cost
This decade will be remembered with the numerous discussions about the efficiency of solar cells, and their effect on energy costs. Finally, in the year 1970, Exxon Corporation developed the first solar panel which was cheaper to manufacture.

1977, The US Embraces Solar Energy
The US government was the first to embrace the use of solar energy by launching the Solar Energy Research Institute.

1981, The first Solar Powered Aircraft
Paul Macready commemorates the year of 1981 with the design of the first solar powered aircraft. It had more than 1600 cells on its wings. The aircraft took off in France and landed in England.

1982, The first Solar Powered Car
The development of the first solar powered car happened in Australia.

1999 Development of Solar Power Plants
In the year 1999, the largest plant was developed producing more than 20 kilowatts.

1999, Solar Cell Efficiency
This year is also known for the development of the most efficient solar cell with 36% efficiency.

 2008, Spanish government reduces subsidies

World’s solar power industry is affected by the reduced subsidies on solar power production, by the government of Spain, in order to deal with the economic crisis.

2010, Solar energy market stagnation
Stagnation of the solar energy market leads to bankruptcy of two of the major solar companies- Evergreen Solar and Solyndra.

2012, Record Breaking Solar Plants

We now witness huge investments coming in this industry.  The largest solar energy plant in history is located in the Golmud Solar Park in China, with an installed capacity of 200 megawatts. In India, the Gujarat Solar Park- a collection of solar farms scattered around the Gujarat region, has a combined installed capacity of 605 megawatts.

Via: Exploringgreentechnology


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  • Most people hear of the advantages of solar energy but not a lot of websites talk about the disadvantages. Just like any power source solar panels have advantages and disadvantages. The other good thing you talk about is the long history of solar energy , I bet not many know that they have been around so long.

  • Shan Manju

    Thanks for highlighting Gujarat’s solar power capacity. In fact it is only one place in Asia, where a 50MW solar power generation is happening in one place,Not only that, innovation is at its best in Gujarat. They have also installed canal top solar panels to save precious land and water. Hope this spices up your good article- Manju from http://www.thesolarindia.com