The power of the sun was being recognised even by ancient civilisations, who would try various basic methods to harness its energy. For example, they would use glass to direct sunlight onto flammable materials in order to light fires and create torches. They would also use it as a weapon against enemies, and they would consider it when designing things like houses and water tanks in order to use it as a heat supply.
This was also the method used to create bath houses with warm water, hence the roofless examples we see in various historical resources. There are monuments dating back to 2000 BCE which celebrate the sun, as well as deities for example the Aztec god Huitzilopochtli who was worshipped in support of his eternal struggle to fight darkness.
The 18th Century
It wasn’t until the 18th century CE that scientific discoveries were made revealing the full extent to which we could harness solar energy. Scientist Edmond Becquerel was experimenting with electrolytic cells in 1839 when he happened to discover that placing them in direct sunlight led to them producing more electricity. This was a huge breakthrough in the history of solar power as it proved that the power of the sun could be used to create electricity and therefore was a renewable and safe source of energy.
It was later discovered that selenium could be used to turn light alone into electricity, without heat being involved at all, which then led to the very first solar cell being created in 1883. It took another ten years for these cells to be used to form a fully functioning solar system, which took the shape of the first solar water heater.
Albert Einstein wrote a paper in 1905 on the photoelectric effect, otherwise described as the emission of electrons caused by light hitting material, which earned him a Nobel Prize. Researched continued, resulting in the first silicon photovoltaic cell being created. This produced enough electricity to power electrical equipment, and even this only produced 5% of the power we see now. This breakthrough led to the mass production of solar powered devices for the use of the public.
The 1970s gave birth to a less expensive silicon photovoltaic cell which was then used by companies like Sandbar Solar to design large solar panels. This then triggered the use of solar power by large companies and governments. The goal now is to make it affordable enough to compete with alternative energy sources, which it looks like it’s on its way to being. It’s not just businesses that can use solar energy though, but homes too!
Solar energy is one of the most important scientific developments the world has ever seen. We are currently ruining our environment by burning fossil fuels to create energy, and these sources are non-renewable so at some point they will run out. We are in drastic need of safe and renewable energy sources, and solar power might be the answer to our prayers. Wind power and hydroelectricity are also being explored, and would also be fantastic solutions to the problem. To find out more about how the world could become greener, take a look at this article on electric bikes.