Solar Energy History

Early History of Solar Power

Solar energy history lets us know that solar power technology isn't really new. It has been around for a very long time in one form or another. In fact, the earliest known record of people using solar power goes all the way back to to the 7th Century B.C.

solar energy history

Here is a short summary of how solar energy has been used in both ancient and modern times.

  • 7th Century B.C. - A very smart person figured out how to concentrate the sun's rays with a magnifying glass to make fire!

  • 3rd Century B.C. - Ancient Romans and Greeks were known to light torches with burning mirrors and use them in their religious ceremonies, and during military operations.

  • 2nd Century B.C. - A Greek scientist named Archimedes developed a way to focus sunlight by using bronze shields to reflect the light and set fire to the Roman ships which were attacking Syracuse.

  • 1st to 4th Century A.D. - Roman bath houses were developed with large, south facing windows that effectively let in the sun's warmth and kept people warm without overheating.

  • 6th Century A.D. - A new law in Rome and other parts of Europe called the Justinian Code created "sun rights", which ensured that each person would be able to access the sun. This law came to pass because so many sunrooms were built into homes and public buildings.

  • 1200 A.D. - The Anasazi people of North America developed cliff dwellings that were able to harness the power\of the winter sun. The Anasazi are ancestors of the Pueblo people.

  • 1767 - A Swiss scientist named Horace de Saussure builds the world's first solar collector technology. He is credited with the invention, but there may have been others who were using similar tools. Sir John Herschel, an explorer, used Saussure's invention to cook food during an expedition to South Africa in the 1830's.

Solar Energy History in the 19th Century

  • 1816 - Robert Stirling, a full time minister and part time inventor, created a heat engine called the "economiser" and applied for a patent at the Chancery in Edinburgh, Scotland. This invention was later used in a new system called the dish/Stirling system, which was able to concentrate the sun's thermal energy to produce power.

  • 1839 - French scientist Edmond Becquerel makes a new discovery while in the process of experimenting with an electrolytic cell. He placed two metal electrodes in a solution that conducted electricity, and he found that the electricity increased when exposed to light. This is now known as the photovoltaic effect.

  • 1860's - A French mathematician named August Mouchet develops a new idea for creating solar powered steam engines, which he later constructed over a period of several decades.

  • 1870's - 80's - Scientists and inventors discover that selenium can be used as a photoconductor, and they begin to apply this new technology.

  • 1891 - Baltimore inventor Clarence Kemp patents the very first commercial solar water heater.

Solar Energy Developments in the 20th Century

  • 1905 Albert Einstein published his paper on the theory of relativity and another paper on the concept of photoelectric effect

  • 1921 Albert Einstein wins a Nobel Prize for relativity theory and photoelectric effect theory

  • 1954 Bell Laboratories researchers Calvin Fuller, Daryl Chapin, and Gerald Pearson develop the very first solar cell with 4% efficiency – powerful enough to actually operate equipment in the lab

  • 1960 a photovoltaic cell rated at 14% efficiency was created by Hoffman Electronics

  • 1986 Kramer Junction, California was the proud owner of the largest solar thermal facility in the world

  • 2000 a 6,000-square foot home in Morrison, Colorado benefits from the installation of a 12-kilowatt solar home system, providing the majority of the power for the family of eight

  • 2000 the task of installing solar panels on the International Space Station began

  • 2002 the largest rail yard in the U.S., Union Pacific Railroad, installs lanterns that utilize solar cell technology alongside LED light bulbs in Nebraska

Potential Future Developments

What can we look for in the coming years in regards to solar energy?

Passive solar energy could be incorporated into every home, school, and commercial building built from the ground up by installing windows and walls facing the right direction and slanted correctly in order to take the greatest advantage of sunlight.

Research will continue into making photovoltaic cells more powerful and hopefully find ways to make the equipment required to install solar energy systems more affordable for both homeowners and businesses.


The History of Solar

›› Solar Energy History

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