A brief history of solar energy

Posted on 30 Mar, 2017 in Solar Power

How has the solar industry changed over the years?

Humans have been using the sun to their advantage for thousands of years. Yet, it wasn't till a couple hundred years ago that we first figured out how to convert the sun's energy to electricity. 

In this article, we'll look at how the technology to produce energy from sunlight came about, and how that technology has expanded into the clean, renewable energy industry it is today.

Humans have always been using the power of the sun.
Humans have always been using the power of the sun.

The discovery of the photovoltaic (PV) effect and the creation of the first solar cell

The production of electricity via solar energy (otherwise known as the PV effect), can be attributed to 19 year old French experimental physicist Edmund Becquerel, who first discovered the effect in 1839. Becquerel found that certain materials produced small amounts of electric current when exposed to light, according to Harvard Business School, but it wasn't until 1883 when Charles Fritz created the first PV cell.

However, these PV cells were hardly something to write home about, converting less than one per cent of the available solar energy into electricity. While the PV effect was a great scientific discovery, it would be a while before it was anything more than an interesting gimmick.

Making the first, efficient, PV solar cell

The first great step towards the practical application of photovoltaics took place in Bell laboratories in the United States in 1954, where the efficiency of solar cells crossed the 10 per cent threshold according to the Indian Institute of Technology. These solar cells were made of silicon, which is still the baseline material of solar cells today – although their efficiency has been greatly improved upon.

Interestingly, the space program in the 1960s was one of the main industries that helped fuel the demand in this technology, prioritising the need for efficient technology over the high cost of production at the time.

With usable energy produced from PV cells, the technology was finally able to be commercialised. With money to be made, PV technology was able to rapidly break ground in becoming more and more practical for everyday use.

Where is solar power now?

Today, solar power has never been as efficient, or as affordable.

Today, solar power has never been as efficient, or as affordable. The end of 2016 saw a turning point as solar energy is becoming the cheapest form of renewable energy, and is half the price of coal, according to Bloomberg. The price for solar panels has also dropped by half over the last five years.

On top of this, solar batteries are able to store the energy they generate during the day time, to be used at a later date such as during the night, further reducing dependency on the electrical grid.

To find out more about solar panels, or to find out where this technology is headed in the future, get in touch with the team at RK Solar and Counsulting today.

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