History of Solar Energy
The history of solar energy started over 2000 years ago with the
Greeks and Romans worked together to create solar energy. The Greeks
were the first people to use solar energy to heat buildings and water
warm their homes and growing vegetables in greenhouses. While it may
have been difficult for them to understand solar energy, entire cities
were built this way in 400 BC. Many other early civilizations such as
the Chinese, and others followed.
But who discovered solar energy?
In 1767 a Swiss scientist Horace de Saussure is credited with
building the world's first solar collector, which was later used by Sir
John Herschel to cook food during his South African expedition in the
In 1838 a French physicist named observed and published findings
about the nature of materials to turn light into energy. The observation
was considered interesting, but was not pursued.
Between 1860 - 1881 Auguste Mouchout was the first man to patent a
design for a motor running on solar energy. He received funds from the
French monarch and he designed a device that turned solar energy into
mechanical steam power and soon operated the first steam engine. He
later connected the steam engine to a refrigeration device, illustrating
that the sunís rays can be utilized to make ice. However his research
was cut shot for lack of funding.
In 1873 a British by the name Willoughby Smith, experimented with the
use of selenium solar cells after discovering its sensitivity to light
while testing material for underwater telegraph cables.
1876 - 1878 William Adams, wrote the first book about Solar Energy
called: A Substitute for Fuel in Tropical Countries. Together with his
student Richard Day, they experimented using mirrors and were able to
power a 2.5 horsepower steam engine. His design, known as the Power
Tower concept, is still in use today.
In 1883 a big milestone in solar energy was achieved by Charles Fritz
who turned the sun's rays into electricity. His solar cell had a
conversion rate of only 1-2%.
1885 - 1889 a French mane by the name Charles Tellier, installed the
first solar energy system for heating household water on top of his very
own roof. But his desire to pursue his refrigeration interests led to
him not pursuing the solar energy experiments.
1868 - 1888 an American John Ericsson immigrant from Sweden dismissed
Mouchout's work although also developed a solar powered steam engine,
very similar in design to the one done by Mouchoutís.
1892 - 1905 Aubrey Eneas formed the first Solar Energy Company - The
Solar Motor Co. the company sold their two Solar Energy systems which
were destroyed by windstorm. This led to the companyís closure.
In 1904 Henry Willsie recognized the need to store generated power
and built 2 huge plants in California. He was the first to successfully
use power at night after generating it during the day. Even so, he was
not able to make a sale and his company too folded.
1906 - 1914 Frank Shuman's company, Sun Power Co, built the largest
and most cost-effective solar energy system. Although it produced a lot
of steam it did not produce enough pressure.
In 1954 the use of silicon as a semi-conductor was discovered by
Calvin Fuller, Gerald Pearson and Daryl Chaplin of Bell Laboratories,
which led to the construction of a solar panel with an efficiency rate
In 1956 the first commercial solar cell was made available to the
public at a very expensive price of $300 per watt. It was now being used
in radios and toys.
In the 1950s - 1960s the used of solar technology was use by space
programs. In 1958 the Vanguard I was launched which was the first
satellite that used solar energy to generate electricity.
In 1970 came the Energy Crisis and suddenly it became important to
find an alternative form of energy as there was a realization of just
how reliant we really are on non-renewable energy.
In 1980 - 1991 A Los Angeles based company called Luz Co. produced
95% of the world's solar-based electricity.
The Solar energy history has played a big part in the way society
evolved and will continue to do so now and in the future.
There is a renewed focus today as more and more people see the
advantages of solar energy and as it becomes more and more affordable.
The governments across the world are ready to offer financial
assistance and even tax rebates to the use of this renewable source of
energy. And we can say that the future is bright for this alternative
source of energy.