Although it may seem like solar panels popped up out of nowhere within the past decade or so, they actually have a long and interesting history. Many discoveries and scientists have been involved as far back the mid-1800s (and some would argue Ancient Greek and Roman times). Even Albert Einstein had a role in the development of the solar panels that we know today!
Let’s take a brief look at the not-so-brief history of solar power.
Long-Long Ago and The Early Days
As with many scientific discoveries, the chemical generation of electricity by the sun was discovered as a side-effect during an experiment way back in 1839 in France. It is true, however, that the sun’s energy was used even before the birth of Christ. The Romans and the Greeks were known to use reflective surfaces to bounce light off of and burn things. They would light torches, and it is even said that the Greek army torched a Roman wooden ship using this technique.
Back to more recent times, the photovoltaic effect was noted when a conducting solution was placed in the sun. When the solution was in the sun, the electrode produced more electricity. This was discovered by Alexandre Edmond Becquerel, according to the Institute for Energy Research. Only about 50 years later (1883), the first functioning selenium cell was created by Charles Fritz, an American inventor.
Einstein and Bell Labs Breakthroughs
Albert Einstein comes into the picture in 1905, when he wrote a paper on how light contains and transfers energy. And, the bulk of the work done to create the silicon solar cells that we know today was done through research at Bell Labs in the 1950s, according to The Smithsonian. The scientists Gerald Pearson, Daryl Chapin, and Calvin Fuller discovered that silicon proved to be more efficient at energy transfer than selenium while being abundant in the natural world.
The next big step for solar energy happened when awareness was raised among the western world due to the oil embargo in the 1970s. During this time oil producing countries raised the prices of oil and western countries were forced to realize that they were too dependent on foreign entities for something as crucial as energy had become.
Solar Power Comes to the Forefront
During the 1970s, solar panel installation was completed on the White House roof (these panels now live in museums and presidential libraries across the country, and were replaced with three solar energy systems on the White House grounds), and manufacturing for residential and commercial use became more efficient and affordable. The last two decades have brought more transformations and accessibility to solar panels and their use in residences and businesses.
To put the recent progression into perspective, solar power cost around $300 per watt after the Bell Labs research in the 1950s. Today one watt of solar power costs as little as $0.50 per watt.
Solar power continues to be at the forefront of ways to produce energy in a society that is progressively moving to be green as concerns about the environment become increasingly dire. If you are interested in how you can help to save the earth for future generations and even save money while you’re at it, contact us for a free solar estimate.