7th Century B.C.
Magnifying glasses used the sun’s rays to make fire.
1st to 6th Century A.D.
The Greeks and Romans used passive solar designs. Creating buildings with south facing windows allowed the sun to heat and light indoor spaces.
Solar Energy History 1800-1899
Auguste Mouchout invented a device that turned solar power into steam. This soon became the first steam engine powered completely by the sun.
British electrician Wiloughby Smith discovered the photoconductivity of selenium.
William Grylls Adams and Richard Evans Day discovered that when light is shined on selenium, electricity is created. Electricity produced from light is now referred to as the photovoltaic effect.
American inventor Charles Fritz turned the sun’s rays into electricity with the first solar cell.
Frenchman Charles Tellier installed a solar energy system to heat water for his home.
American inventor Clarence Kemp patented the first solar water heater.
Solar Energy History 1900-1999
Along with a paper on his Theory of Relativity, Albert Einstein published a paper on the photoelectric effect.
William J. Bailley invents a solar collector. Made with copper coils and an insulated box, the solar collector is similar to current designs.
Albert Einstein wins the Nobel Prize for his theories on the photoelectric effect.
Calvin Fuller, Gerald Pearson and Daryl Chaplin of Bell Laboratories create the first silicon solar cell able to generate enough power to run common appliances.
Commercial solar cells went on the market at a hefty price of $300 per watt.
Vanguard I became the first space satellite to use solar cell technology. Space programs still use photovoltaic powered systems today.
As oil prices virtually doubled overnight, the U.S. government became determined to reduce dependence on foreign oil. Among other things, the government heavily invested in the solar electric cell that Bell Laboratories produced in 1953.
U.S. investments in the solar electric cell were successful, but weren’t paying off in a monetary sense. Costs of solar energy had dropped, making it more competitive and affordable. However, the costs of fossil fuels had dropped as well. Solar power simply wasn’t as affordable.
Pacific Gas and Electric installs the first photovoltaic grid system in Kerman, California.
Solar Energy History 2000-Today
Production begins at First Solar in Perrysburg, OH, the world’s largest photovoltaic manufacturing plant.
Featuring a solar electric canopy, the first BP Connect gasoline and retail store opens in Indianapolis, Indiana.
In the Solar Decathlon competition sponsored by the Department of Energy, students at the University of Colorado built an energy efficient home that utilized solar power.
Use of solar energy is increasing at a rapid rate of an estimated 30% per year.
Demand for solar energy products is currently greater than supply.
Sources: U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, Solar History Timeline: 1900’s, October 18, 2007
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