Essay on Solar Energy History

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Due to the shrinking volume of available energy reservation and increasing energy expenses nowadays, people have been looking for alternative sources of efficient energy to use.

One of the considerable alternative sources is solar energy. Its limitless renewable power had been in use much earlier before human civilization began, from the 7th century BC to modern days. Before it was discovered that solar energy could be harnessed to produce electricity, we used it in many different ways.

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For instance, setting fire with magnifying glasses by concentrating sunlight. Drying our clothes by sunray is not very rare till current days. Building ancient houses or infrastructures facing southward to allow the most energy efficiency of sun exposure. By doing so, it excluded the need to install supplementary heating or cooling for infrastructures. This method of constructed dwelling is remarkably famous today.

The use of solar power dramatically developed since the invention of solar cells, and it could be captured for the production of electricity. The invention of solar cells didn’t come to be in use just in one day. Hundreds of years of research, trying, failure, and moderation made today's outstandingly advanced solar energy harnessing system, and even now it has the full potential for growth in the future.

The history of solar energy in use is briefly discussed below.

Solar Energy in Architecture

In prehistoric times, Greek, Roman, and Egyptian civilizations used solar power in passive ways so that buildings were capable of refining solar energy to keep the temperature warm or cold inside. Building houses facing southward to acquire the most sunlight or heat. Greeks and Romans used a series of thick and spaced pillars known as porticos, in their architecture, that let the sun's rays filter through to receive the right amount of light and heat. In Egypt, black tile-lined pools of water were built to collect solar power all over the day and used to warm the places through heated pipes during the night.

700 BC Making Fire

The earliest use of solar energy was found as far back in written history as the 7th Century BC. During this stage, humankind had been utilizing concentrated solar power to make fire with magnifying glasses.

213-212 BC Heat Ray

It has been recorded that during the ‘Siege of Syracuse (213-212 BC)’, the great scholar Archimedes, burned down the opponent’s wooden ships with sunlight. A collection of mirrors concentrated sunlight onto the ships making fire, and causing severe damage. This was known as ‘Archimedes Heat Ray or Death Ray’. Historians proclaimed that copper or bronze shields were used as mirrors to reflect the sunlight onto the boats. So far it showed that solar power could be an amazing weapon in the war to take advantage of.

1767 Solar oven

A Swiss physicist, Horace de Saussure invented the way of using sunlight to heat or prepare meals in 1767, which we could call a solar oven. It was the very first time, solar power was deliberately used for a particular purpose, and considerably that laid the foundation for solar ovens.

1839 Solar PV Effect

Alexandre Edmond Becquerel, a French physicist discovered the ‘Photovoltaic Effect’ while examining the electrolytic cells in 1839, at the age of 19. PV effect is the formation of electronic charge when substances such as selenium or platinum are exposed to sunlight. During his experimentation, he observed that the cells produced more electricity while exposed to sunlight. This innovation established the basis for producing electricity from solar energy.

1883 First Solar Photovoltaic cells

American scientist Charles Fritts in 1883, installed a solar panel on the roof of New York City with the efficiency of energy conversion between 1 and 2%. This was the first time that he came up with a design to assemble and install all those devices. In this design of his work, the selenium cells were coated with an extremely thin layer of gold, making it noticeably expensive.

1905 Einstein and the Photoelectric Effect

Albert Einstein, a prominent German scientist published a paper in 1905 on the photoelectric effect that had drawn the world’s attention to solar energy and enhanced its potentiality for further research.

1954 Birth of Photovoltaic or Solar cells

Throughout the 1900s scientists from all over the world kept on researching and upgrading solar power conversion methods. The discovery of solar cells in Bell Labs, in 1954 was the biggest step towards the solar energy harnessing process that we use in modern days. Three scientists David Chapin, Calvin Fuller, and Gerald Pearson worked hard in the creation of a more practical solar cell applying silicon that led to the efficiency of electricity conversion from 4% to 11%.

1955 Solar cells Sold commercially

This was the beginning of marketing solar panels commercially. A company known as Hoffman Electric manufactured solar cells and commercialized them for $25 per solar cell with an efficiency of 10%.

Solar Powered Satellite

Though the development of solar panels as a business was quite doomed because of the high cost, the notable application of solar power developed in space crafts. Space crafts had the necessity for sustainable energy sources. Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, many satellite was powered by solar panels named Vanguard 1, Vanguard 2, Explorer 3, and Sputnik 3. With the growing efficiency and technology, NASA launched the Nimbus Satellite in 1964 which was entirely powered by solar panels.

Moderation and Lower price

At the time when the solar cell was first introduced and applied for electricity generation, the cost was a mere $300 per watt with an efficiency of 4%. The discovery of solar cells in 1954 with 11% efficiency, significantly enabled any electric device to power up with solar panels. With time, Hoffman Electronics commercialized solar panels, it gradually improved efficiency from 10 to 14% which led to the expenses down to $20 per watt.

Due to the degeneration of available energy in the world, countries like Germany, the USA, Canada, Australia, China, the UK, etc. took a step forward in using natural resources for energy. This was the time when sustainable solar electricity production and installation expanded dramatically which led the cost to be reduced at $0.50 per watt.

Uses in today

With the moderation and increased efficiency, solar power electricity use practically expanded all over the world. Subsidies from governments in developed to underdeveloped countries for the installation of solar panels, remarkably boosted its business. In addition to its sustainable, environment-friendly, and low-pollutant nature, the uses of solar energy are widening at a fascinating speed. At some level, it has been considered as an alternative energy source instead of fossil fuels. Officially German Govt. aims to make its total energy consumption from 80% of renewable sources by 2050. Today, solar energy is used in several ways, such as heating, lighting, cooking, transportation with solar-powered installed systems, and most particularly solar electricity generation etc. Germany, China, the USA, and Australia almost went for their maximum electricity production from solar energy. Here are a few details of these countries' solar electric power uses.


Germany has been the key feature in installing solar energy to generate electricity from solar in the interest of manufacturing almost 80% of energy from renewable sources by 2050. Despite the fact of being a sun-drenched country, Germany has a 43GW cumulative installed solar capacity to produce power, where it produced 40TWh in 2017.


With the highest 174GB solar energy capacity and the largest manufactured solar panels, china produces the maximum 118.2TWh electricity from solar energy in the world. It has the largest market for both solar photovoltaic and solar thermal energy. In addition, China intends to build up the first solar power station in space, according to Science and Technology Daily, the official newspaper of China's Ministry of Science and Technology.

United States

The USA is one the top countries to produce and use solar power in the world. It ranked second based on largest solar power installed capacity of 51GW in 2017. By the end of 2018, the USA produced 66.6TWh of electricity, contributing 39% of its total energy consumption.

Besides of its use for electricity generation, solar energy is diversely applicable in our daily lives, solar cooking devices to light the streets, nowadays it is very common to see devices with solar-powered technology in application. Here is a table of a few solar-powered products.

    • Solar charger Solar Lamp Solar refrigerator Solar Tent Solar Computer
    • Solar Calculator Solar street light Solar Radio Solar Backpack Solar Keyboard
    • Solar cooker Solar traffic light Solar Pump Solar Balloon Solar Lantern
    • Solar Grill Solar Fan Solar Inverter Solar Vehicle Solar Generator


Solar Powered Gadgets

Instead of installing solar panels in your home, innovations in the area of solar technology made it much easier to use solar-powered gadgets. While even cycling, backpacking, or camping, there are solar-powered products that are specially featured for individual and particular use.

Project Sunroof

Project Sunroof is associated with individual homeowners’ rooftops' potentiality to harness solar power in the conversion of solar electricity. This project is directed by the search engine ‘Google’, started by its engineer Carl Elkin. It uses the data from Google Maps to analyze rooftop shapes, shadows, local temperature patterns, and possible tools to consider installing solar panels on rooftops. It also calculates an individual’s yearly savings by installation of solar panels.

The continual research, innovation, and moderation by the scientists and engineers over the years made today’s excellent diverse application of solar energy to our lives. From setting fire to creating electricity, the history of solar energy walked through many ups and downs. The landmark was discovering solar cells, which made a leading source of clean and renewable energy in our modern lives. It didn’t just shape our lives easier, it created a field of job opportunities too. So this could be the appropriate time to make the most use of solar energy in response to save our world from more pollution. 

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