Solar panels might seem like a new technology, however the idea of harnessing the sun’s energy has been around since 700 BC. Solar power has been a driving force of energy throughout human evolution and today we want to go through the history of solar panels and the importance of solar energy storage.
In the 3rd century BC, Greeks and Romans started to truly harness the power of solar rays and they did this by using magnifying glasses to focus the sun’s energy in one spot and heat up torches and other items.
During the Roman period, sunrooms were created and these were used to capture the sun’s warmth and use it for different purposes. These rooms would be south facing, and this concentrated heat would be used to heat up bathhouses as well as for other things.
Archimedes is a popular figure in Greek history, and you may have heard of this famous scientist before. However, one thing you might not have known is that Archimedes set fire to wooden ships sent by the Roman Empire using the power of the sun. He would reflect the sun’s light from bronze shields and concentrate these rays on invading ships to burn them before they could reach land.
The solar power cell
Where solar energy was used in this primitive way for a long long time; it was not until 1839 where french physicist Edmond Becquerel discovered the photovoltaic effect and used this knowledge to create solar power cells. The photovoltaic effect showed that a cell made of electrodes would conduct more electricity when exposed to light. This is the basis of our solar energy in the modern age.
In 1873, Willoughby Smith built on this idea and found that the element selenium was a good photoconductor. In 1876, William Grylls Adams and Richard Evans Day used both of these theories together and found that when selenium was used as a conductor – electricity could be produced by exposure to light.
The selenium solar cell
These principles took a little while to put into practice – however in 1883c Charles Fritz built the first working selenium solar cell. This was a huge step in the right direction for solar power and is formed the basis of the technology we use in solar panels today.
As with any new scientific discovery – the solar cell would not take off immediately and it actually took a very famous name to get the word out to the community. Albert Einstein published a paper about light carrying energy in 1905 and this generated a whole new interest in the subject as well as acceptance of solar power as a form energy.
NASA started to use the concept of solar energy in the 1950s and 1960s, with satellites such as the Vanguard I Sputnik-3 powered with these cells
Throughout the years following, this technology has improved leaps and bounds and silicon is new used in the cells rather than selenium. Many solar companies around the world have used these techniques to develop their solar energy and this has created an industry that has grown exponentially in recent decades and looks to thrive in the future.