Solar Power History

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solar power history

Solar Power History

The history of photovoltaic energy started way back in 1876.  William Grylls Adams along with a student of his, Richard Day, discovered that when selenium was exposed to light, it produced electricity.  An electricity expert, Werner von Siemens, stated that the discovery was "scientifically of the most far-reaching importance".  The selenium cells were not efficient, but it was proved that light, without heat or moving parts, could be converted into electricity. 

In 1953, Calvin Fuller, Gerald Pearson, and Daryl Chapin, discovered the silicon solar cell.  This cell actually produced enough electricity and was efficient enough to run small electrical devices.  The New York Times stated that this discovery was "the beginning of a new era, leading eventually to the realization of harnessing the almost limitless energy of the sun for the uses of civilization."

The year is 1956, and the first solar cells are available commercially.  The cost however is far from the reach of everyday people.  At $300 for a 1 watt solar cell, the expense was far beyond anyone's means.  1956 started showing us the first solar cells used in toys and radios.  These novelty items were the first item to have solar cells available to consumers.

.In the late 1950's and early 1960's satellites in the USA's and Soviet's space program were powered by solar cells and in the late 1960's solar power was basically the standard for powering space bound satellites.

In the early 1970's a way to lower to cost of solar cells was discovered.  This brought the price down from $100 per watt to around $20 per watt.  This research was spearheaded by Exxon.  Most off-shore oil rigs used the solar cells to power the waning lights on the top of the rigs.

The period from the 1970's to the 1990's saw quite a change in the usage of solar cells.  They began showing up on railroad crossings, in remote places to power homes, Australia used solar cells in their microwave towers to expand their telecommunication capabilities.  Even desert regions saw solar power bring water to the soil where line fed power was not an option!

Today we see solar cells in a wide variety of places.  You may see solar powered cars.  There is even a solar powered aircraft that has flown higher than any other aircraft with the exception of the Blackbird.  With the cost of solar cells well within everyone's budget, solar power has never looked so tempting.  

Recently new technology has given us screen printed solar cells, and a solar fabric that can be used to side a house!


The history of solar heat transfer started in the 1760's when a Switzerland citizen, Horace de Saussure stated that ""It is a known fact, and a fact that has probably been known for a long time, that a room, a carriage, or any other place is hotter when the rays of the sun pass through glass."  He built a box which housed a piece of glass for a top.  The temperature inside the box rose to over the boiling point of water.  In 1892, this box became known as a solar collector and started providing hot water to millions!

Do you have a pool?  In the 1970's American Freeman Ford created a low cost plastic to act as a solar collector.  This made heating a pool more cost effective than ever.  It is thought that in the United States alone, solar pool heater produce more energy that 10 nuclear power plants could produce.



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