History of Solar Energy

Einstein Solar Energy
By Micky Hansen

From Einstein to space shuttles, to modern breakthroughs... the history of solar is an interesting one.

Below we'll walk through a brief history of solar energy as it has developed throughout the years, starting back in 1767!

If you want to know more about solar, check out these articles:

1767, First Solar Collector

In the year 1767 a Swiss scientist named Horace-Benedict de Saussure created the first solar collector - an insulated box covered with three layers of glass to absorb heat energy. Saussure's box became widely known as the first solar oven, reaching temperatures of 230 degrees fahrenheit.

1839, Photovolataic Effect Defined

In 1839 a major milestone in the evolution of solar energy happened with the defining of the photovoltaic effect. A French scientist by the name Edmond Becquerel discovered this using two electrodes placed in an electrolyte. After exposing it to the light, electricity increased.

1873, Photo Conductivity of Selenium

In 1873, Willoughby Smith discovered photoconductivity of a material known as selenium. The discovery was to be further extended in 1876 when the same man discovered that selenium produces solar energy. Attempts were made to construct solar cells using selenium. The cell did not work out well but an important lesson was learned - that solid could convert light into electricity without heat or moving parts. The discovery laid a strong base for future developments in the history of solar power.

1883-1891 First Solar Cells Invented

During this time several inventions were made that contributed to the evolution of solar energy use. First in 1893 the first solar cell was introduced. The cell was to be wrapped with selenium wafers. Later in 1887 there was the discovery of the ultraviolet ray capacity to cause a spark jump between two electrodes. This was done by Heinrich Hertz. Later, in 1891 the first solar heater was created.

1908, Copper Collector

In 1908 William J. Baileys invented a copper collector which was constructed using copper coils and boxes. The copper collector was an improvement of the earlier done collector but the only difference was the use of copper insulation. The improvements of the invention are being used to manufacture today's equipments.

1916, Photoelectric Effect

With Albert Einstein publishing a paper on photoelectric effect in 1905 still there was no experimental evidence about it. In 1916 a scientist known as Robert Millikan evidenced the photoelectric effect experimentally.

1947, Solar Becomes Popular in the US

Following the Second World War, solar power equipment started being popular among many people in the USA. There was a huge demand of solar energy equipment.

1958, Solar Power In Space

Solar power was used to power space exploration equipment such as satellites and space stations. This was the first commercial use of solar energy.

1959-1970, Efficiency of Solar Cells and Cost

During the period between 1959 and 1970 there was major discussion about the efficiency of solar cells and reduction of costs. Up to that time the efficiency of the solar cells was only 14% and was not comparable to the high cost of producing cells. However in the 1970's, Exxon Corporation designed an efficient solar panel which was less costly to manufacture. This was a major milestone in the history of solar energy.

1977 Governments Embrace Solar Energy

In 1977 the US government embraced the use of solar energy by launching the Solar Energy Research Institute. Other governments across the world soon followed.

1981, Solar Powered Aircraft

In 1981, Paul Macready produced the first solar powered aircraft. The aircraft used more than 1600 cells, placed on its wings. The aircraft flew from France to England.

1982, First Solar Powered Cars

In the year 1982 there was the development of the first solar powered cars in Australia.

1986-1999 Solar Power Plants

Evolution of large scale solar energy plants with advancement being made in each phase. By the year 1999 the largest plant was developed producing more than 20 kilowatts.

1999, Breakthroughs in Solar Cell Efficiency

The most efficient solar cell was developed, with a photovoltaic efficiency of 36 percent.

2008, Subsidy Reduction in Spain

Due to the global financial crisis in the year 2008, the Spanish government reduced subsidies on ongoing solar power production in the country. This had a negative effect on the industry across the world.

2010, Evergreen Solar and Solyndra Fail

Two leading solar companies failed. This was due to lack of market for their high technology produced products

2012, Record Breaking Solar Plants

The past few years have seen enormous investment in utility-scale solar plants, with records for the largest frequently being broken. As of 2012, the history's largest solar energy plant is the Golmud Solar Park in China, with an installed capacity of 200 megawatts. This is arguably surpassed by India's Gujarat Solar Park, a collection of solar farms scattered around the Gujarat region, boasting a combined installed capacity of 605 megawatts.




First published May 1, 2012
Last updated February 9, 2021

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62 comments on “History of Solar Energy”

  1. It's awesome how solar electricity is taken center stage in this modern times,I see it at as the future of energy for the world,apart from the sustainability and availability its clean and does not disrupt the ecosystem, It's the beginning of the greatest times in science and technology.
    Will be happy if I can be sent information and updating on the happenings on solar
    Thank you.

  2. 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

  3. IF SOLAR ENERGY WAS SO IMPORTANT , WHY HASNT THE IDIOTS IN WASHINGTON PUT THIS ON THE WHITE HOUSE TO CONSERVE ENERGY . I WHY NOW HAST THE PRESIDENTS HELPED FINANCE FULL POWER PLANTS TO INSTALL AND MAINYAINED THESSE SYSTEMS , . ALSO WHAT THE HECK IS THE MATTER WITH OUR PRIDE IN THE U.S. TO BUILD IT WITH QUALITY AGAIN . WE ARE BETTER THAN THE OTHER GUYS . ONCE WE WERE A INDUSTRAL MIGHTY NATION , WWHAT HAPPENED . OH I KNOW WE GOT LAZY LIKE WASHINGTON D.C. . GREAT INFO ON THE HISTORY . MIKES ANTIQUE RESTORATION

    1. Actually, there was. To my knowledge only, the Carter administration put pv solar
      on the white house roof to give support and the Regan administration took them down so a waste of efforts by politics in decision making.

    2. Before the US spends any more of my tax money investing in large-scale solar energy, I'd like to know: 1) how does it impact weather change, and 2) how does it impact flora and fauna (including eagles, geese, birds)? Haven't heard much about 1) and very little attention to 2) although saving turtles was enough to try and stop cattle ranching. I'm not a total pessimist, but these solar fields remind me of the "scorched earth" policies I heard about in my youth.

    3. Solar power is a great way to save money on power bills. For instance, I had a solar water haeetr installed for my pool. It uses the sun's energy to keep my pool heated throughout the day, even during the winter. It's really nice having a warm pool to jump into, even during the winter when it's cooler.But anyways, I installed the solar water haeetr myself. It's fairly easy, and the trick is to find a good deal on the equipment. However, once you have the right equipment, you'll need to find the right solar power information. Awhile back I found some good books that will help you with your solar projects. It's been extremely helpful for me, so I hope it works out for you too, especially if you're looking to try and save some money from your power bill. Check out the sources section below.

  4. I THINK USING SOLAR ENERGY IS BEST OF RENEWABLE ENERGY BUT IT'S EQUIPMENT IS VERY COSTLY WHEN COMPARED TO OTHERS EVEN THOUGH LETS THINK IT WILL BE USED MORE BY PEOPLE &INDUSTRIES

  5. I've liked people's intelligence. praise be to the God who gave them the knowledge .
    Solar energy has become a subsidy to the poor countries like Uganda . this has come as a result of hydro power being expensive . What pains most is to have the source of river Nile in your country and you sleep in darkness. This has come as a result of governors being selfish by swindling government funds. Almighty help the needy in poor countries like Uganda to escape selfish leaders. In Jesus' names I've prayed Aimen.

    Thanks , almighty God bless u.

    1. The bottom line is that you want to save money, right? Your best itnesnmevt might be in super-insulating your house thick insulation in the attic, double or triple-pane low-e windows, weatherstripping. It's not as sexy as solar, but saving money is sexy to me.And of course, commonsense behaviors like turning off everything that you're not using at the moment.With the goal of saving money, I'd suggest solar hot water long before solar electric, if your area is suitable for that.It is possible to install your own panels, either thermal or electric, but you may not necessarily save money doing do. Solar is becoming a commodity business, and there's competition in this recession. After I installed my own panels, the very next year, my neighbor's brother got some installed, and the net cost, including installation, was actually less than mine. I'm not unhappy because it was quite a learning experience.

  6. Thanks for exploring Green Tech,Your information was very useful.Hope the whole world goes green with clean energy using clean technology.

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