The History of Solar Energy At A Glance

Society depends on the availability of energy resources to power our lives. From the cars we drive to the TV’s in our house, electricity and fuel have become such a necessary and largely-consumed commodity that the fossil fuels used to provide this energy are being depleted fast. Fortunately, the development and commercialization of renewable energy sources has drastically grown in recent years and is only expected to continue growing in the future.

The Evolution of Solar Energy

Understanding the history of solar energy can help us understand how and why the industry faces certain challenges and hurdles, and also how we as consumers can help the progress of renewable energy research and development.

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Using the sun as a source of energy can be traced all the way back to 700 BC, when humans used heat from the sun to start fires. Around 200 BC, legend tells that the great Greek Scientist Archimedes used a collection of mirrors to create a “heat ray,” that used the sun’s energy to set fire to enemy ships.

Hundreds of years later in 1839, a French scientist named Edmond Becquerel used metal electrodes in an electricity-conducting solution to create the first photovoltaic (PV) cell, which uses light to generate electricity. This is the basis for one type of solar power used today.

Despite the concept of solar energy having existed for hundreds of years, the industrial revolution created a less-than-favorable environment for its continued progress and development. This was largely because of the massive demand for coal and oil, and these industries had created an incredibly vast empire. With the infrastructure and economy in the US built around the dependency of these fossil fuels, the climate for renewable energy development was not conducive to progress.

Nevertheless, the solar visionaries pressed on and made progress, even if they were unable to convince their critics. In 1908, a solar collector from which the present design is based was invented by William J. Bailey from the Carnegie Steel Company. Later, in 1954, the first solar cell able to convert enough energy to power regular electrical equipment was developed in the US at Bell Labs.

The 1970’s was a historical decade for solar energy when a new design for solar cells was created, dropping the price from around $100 per watt to around $20 per watt. After this, solar energy was much more widely used, especially in remote locations where traditional forms of electricity were difficult to access.

Once the price was more reasonable and the case for using renewable energy became stronger as the reality of waning fossil fuel sources became apparent, the development of solar energy gained more support. In 2001, solar energy hit big retailers, being sold in three Home Depot Stores in California, and a year later was being sold in more than 60 stores.

The Future of Solar Energy

Today, only about 1% of all electricity generated comes from solar energy, but several companies, like ACN Inc (click for ACN reviews), are working to make it more accessible. Our reliance on fossil fuels has created a significant demand for renewable energy, as we demand far more resources than are available. The bright side of this dilemma is that this creates a climate conducive to the research and development of various renewable energy sources, and solar energy is leading the way toward a more sustainable future.

The future of solar energy is largely focused on the development of more efficient materials and maintaining competitive prices with traditional sources of energy to make solar power more accessible to consumers. Currently, researchers are looking into the potential of using different materials, like perovskites, as an additional material to be used with silicon cells to improve efficiency, but this material is not expected to be available commercially for a few more years.

Additionally, the continued support and development of new government subsidy programs and taxes on carbon production and emissions will help fund research for improving the efficiency and availability of solar energy, and encourage companies to invest in renewable energy for their buildings and operations.

Solar energy has already been expanded to power entire commercial buildings, cars, and even airplanes. Hopefully, with continued and additional government support and increased consumer interest, all homes and buildings can become self-sufficient for their energy needs and our reliance on fossil fuels will end.