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A brief history of how solar power came to be.

A solar cell is any device that directly converts the energy in light into electrical energy through the process of photovoltaic.


700 BC – Sunlit Fires

We know that all the way back to the 7th century B.C., humans figured out how to make fires by concentrating the sunlight with magnifying glass.

214–212 B.C. – Archimedes’ Heat Ray




Historians claim that Archimedes, a Greek inventor, put solar energy to use already in the 3rd Century BC. He destroyed enemy ships with fire during the Siege of Syracuse with a “heat ray”, which supposedly was a collection of mirrors that concentrated sunlight onto the ships. Whether or not Archimedes’ invention has any root in reality is uncertain. Several experiments have been carried out to verify or bust the story, most of which concluded in the phenomena being possible, but highly unlikely.

1767 – The First Solar Oven

A solar oven, or solar cooker, uses sunlight to heat meals or drinks. Today’s solar ovens are cheap and popular solutions to prepare meals in parts of the world where access to electricity is limited. These devices are only reliant on sunlight to work – there is no fuel required.

Already in 1767, the first solar oven was invented. The credit goes to Horace de Saussure, a Swiss physicist, which probably had no idea his invention would help people prepare their dinner two and a half centuries into the future.

1839 – The Discovery of the Photovoltaic Effect

1839 marks a big year in the history because Edmund Becquerel, a French physicist, only 19 years old at the time, discovered that there is a creation of voltage when a material is exposed to light. Little did he know, that his discovery would lay the foundation of solar power.

1873 – Photoconductivity in Selenium

Willoughby Smith, an English engineer, discovered photoconductivity in solid selenium.

1876 – Electricity from Light

Building on Smith’s discovery three years before, professor William Grylls Adams, accompanied by his student, Richard Evans Day, were the first to observe an electrical current when a material was exposed to light. They used two electrodes onto a plate of selenium, and observed a tiny amount of electricity when the plate was exposed to light.

1883 – The First Design of a Photovoltaic Cell

An American inventor, Charles Fritts, was the first that came up with plans for how to make solar cells. His simple designs in the late 19thcentury were based on selenium wafers.

1905 – Albert Einstein and the Photoelectric Effect

Albert Einstein is famous for a wide variety of scientific milestones, but most people are not aware of his paper on the photoelectric effect. He formulated the photon theory of light, which describes how light can “liberate” electrons on a metal surface. In 1921, 16 years after he submitted this paper, he was awarded the Nobel Prize for the scientific breakthroughs he had discovered.

1918 – Single-Crystal Silicon

Jan Czochralski, a Polish scientist, figured out a method to grow single-crystal silicon. His discoveries laid the foundation for solar cells based on silicon.

1954 – The Birth of Photovoltaic

. In April, 1954, researchers at Bell Laboratories demonstrated the first practical silicon solar cell.

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.


Solar cells today are used in all sorts of devices, from handheld calculators to rooftop solar panels. Improved designs and advanced materials have made it possible to build solar cells that reach over 40 percent efficiency, and research and development continues with the goal of bringing the cost down and raising the efficiency to make solar power more competitive with fossil fuels.


ENERGY INFORMATIVE: The History of Solar Energy

American Physical Society Sites

Exploring green technology.com


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