How Was Solar Energy First Discovered?

How was Solar Energy Discovered?

Solar energy, a phenomenon initially harnessed by ancient bacteria, has been the life force driving our planet since the emergence of photosynthetic microbes approximately 2.3 billion years ago.

Interestingly, this discovery led to a cataclysmic event known as the Great Oxygenation Event, which resulted from the release of oxygen gas as a byproduct of photosynthesis. While these early solar-powered organisms inadvertently caused a mass extinction, solar power today holds the potential to avert a looming planetary crisis.

Where Did Modern Solar Energy Get Started?

The roots of modern solar power can be traced back to the year 1839, when a young French physicist named A.E. Becquerel made a remarkable breakthrough. Prior to this, Becquerel had primarily focused his studies on phosphorescence and luminescence. It was during this time that he stumbled upon the photovoltaic effect.

Becquerel discovered that when gold or platinum plates were submerged in a solution and exposed to uneven solar radiation, they generated an electrical current. This groundbreaking revelation captivated scientists worldwide, sparking a fervent pursuit of solar energy exploration.

What Was Solar Energy Used For?

In the early 1860s, a French mathematician named August Mouchet revolutionized solar power by registering patents for solar-powered engines. His visionary work culminated in 1878 when Mouchet and his assistant, Abel Pifre, successfully developed the first solar-powered printing press.

Their remarkable achievement earned them a gold medal at the Universal Exhibition in Paris. Unfortunately, Mouchet’s pioneering efforts were deemed economically unviable by the French government, leading to the termination of his funding.

How Did Solar Power Get Commercialized?

In 1883, American inventor Charles Fritz constructed the first functional selenium solar cell. Following this breakthrough, Russian scientist Aleksandr Stoletov built and patented the first true solar cell in 1888. The momentum continued in 1891 when Baltimore inventor Clarence Kemp secured a patent for the first commercial solar water heater.

Solar power soared into the global spotlight in 1905 when the renowned physicist Albert Einstein published a paper elucidating the photoelectric effect and the transport of energy through light packets.

Einstein’s seminal work laid the foundation for further innovations, propelling Bell Labs to produce the first modern solar cell in 1954. However, the initial solar cells were highly inefficient, with a staggering cost of $250 per watt of electricity generated, in stark contrast to coal plants’ mere $2-$3 per watt.

Nonetheless, these cells found practical application in space, as evidenced by the Vanguard 1 spacecraft utilizing solar power as a backup energy source in 1958. The subsequent years witnessed a gradual increase in solar cell efficiency, with a 10% efficient cell developed in 1959, albeit limited to space missions.

Oil Shortages Fueled Solar Energy’s Growth

The early 1970s marked a renaissance for solar energy, driven by global oil shortages and growing environmental concerns. This renewed interest spurred concerted efforts to develop renewable alternatives to fossil fuels. Advancements in solar efficiency during this period substantially reduced the cost per watt from over $100 to approximately $20.

The dawn of the new millennium and subsequent years brought further advancements, with dramatic drops in cost and simultaneous increases in efficiency. Today, nearly one million homes in the United States rely on solar power either partially or entirely to meet their electricity needs.

The Future of Solar Energy: New Improvements in Photovoltaic Cells

The future of solar energy lies in continual improvements to photovoltaic (PV) cells. Presently, PV cells operate at approximately 15% efficiency, implying that 85% of the received sunlight remains unconverted into usable electricity. In pursuit of enhanced efficiency, scientists are actively exploring innovative technologies.

Promising developments such as light-sensitive nanoparticles and gallium arsenide have the potential to capture sunlight more effectively than existing PV cells. Additionally, researchers are making remarkable strides in solar energy storage technology.

In the ever-expanding landscape of solar energy, one company stands out as a pioneer in harnessing the power of the sun: SolarMax. With a commitment to advancing renewable energy solutions and a track record of excellence, SolarMax is poised to shape the future of solar technology

1 Comment

  • Such a great read! Looking forward to seeing how the solar industry develops over the next few decades.

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