Way before human civilisation, the sun has been a powerful source of life, not only for humans but for all living things on Earth. Back when humans relied solely on nature for survival, the sun served as their refuge from the cold. As time progressed, they discovered that cooking could be done with the help of solar energy.
Those little discoveries led them to discover that the sun’s light can bring new things to life. Fast forward to today, humans are living in the most advanced world yet. In this digital age that we are in, solar energy has indeed come a long way. With technology ruling almost the entire world’s way of life, electricity use has never been as important as they are today.
Now, solar panels are making moves as the better source of electricity. A lot of huge corporations and residential areas in developed countries have been integrating solar panels for cleaner energy use. But, has it ever crossed your mind how people discovered solar panels? Or why have we been using fossil fuels instead of solar energy?
If you’ve been wondering about their discovery, too, read on as we look at the brief history of solar panels and their role in today’s modern age.
Back to the start
Historians were able to trace back that the use of solar energy was dated back to the 7th century B.C. Evidence supports that people used a magnifying glass to start fires that they used for cooking. From this discovery, it was believed that the Greeks and Romans were also able to utilise solar energy.
It was believed that they used mirrors to bounce and collect light for fire purposes. One of which is lighting their torches. Aside from that, they were also able to incorporate solar energy into their homes eventually. They called it “sunrooms” where a house was built to capture sunlight that was used for bathhouses.
Numerous myths and stories say that even ships relied on solar energy for warmth. But of course, only the past can tell whether these happened or not. One thing’s for sure. 7th-century humans were able to discover solar energy that led civilisation to experiment on how it could be further utilised.
Selenium and its capability to produce electricity
Now, let’s move forward to 1839. Edmond Becquerel, a French physicist was able to discover the working principle of the photovoltaic effect. He was the person who discovered that if a cell is exposed to light, it is capable of producing electricity.
Unfortunately, Becquerel’s discovery wasn’t further experimented until 3 decades later. It was only in 1873 when Willoughby Smith found that selenium could be a potential conductor for the photovoltaic effect. 3 years later, William Adams and Richard Day tried an experiment with selenium to see if Smith’s discovery could be applied to Becquerel’s principle.
The record of their experiments shows that selenium could produce electricity. Even though the electricity generated from selenium was only 1-2% efficient, the experiment served as a big stepping stone to solar panel history.
Solar power’s refinement and early application
In 1883, Charles Fritz, an American inventor, created the first-ever recorded selenium solar cell based on Adams and Day’s discovery. Even though the cells only produced low electricity efficiency, a lot of inventors were able to study the model, which led to the discovery of a better photoconductor for the cells. The great Albert Einstein also shared his knowledge on how photovoltaic cells work, which allowed other scientists to better understand its principles.
The Bell Labs were the first group of researchers who were able to patent their discovery of silicon as the best photoconductor to harness solar energy. In the 1960s, solar power was slowly improving and its efficiency was continuously improving. This was also when space exploration was given light and prioritised. Thus, a lot of companies started looking for ways on how to make use of renewable energy, such as solar.
The early applications of solar power that a lot of people were able to utilise were solar calculators and watches. Then came the 1980’s when solar panels became available to the public for home or business use.
Solar panels today
Fast forward to today, solar panels are truly making their way to be one of the preferred renewable energy options by homeowners and businesses. Now, their efficiency rate is at 15 to 20%. Huge businesses and corporations like Apple and Ikea have been utilising solar energy.
Some cities in China have public buses that are 100% electric. Also, they sell electric cars for better and cleaner transportation use in some of their cities. In the U.S. and Australia, demand for solar panels is continuously increasing. The government provides tax rebates for solar panel users, too. This rebate serves as a reduction to the upfront cost that a user would have spent on solar panel installation.
Increase in demand due to price reduction
It’s true that for the last couple of years, demand for solar panels has increased. Aside from the fact that people are now open to using renewable energy, the market price of solar panels has also decreased.
However, despite its price reduction, it’s undeniable that solar panels are not for everyone yet. Only wealthy and high-class people can spend $15,000 (on average) on electricity use. But, one thing that makes solar panels appealing is their one-time big spend. Installation, batteries, and inverters are expensive. But, in the long run, you no longer have to spend on electricity bills the way you used to.
Aside from promoting a better energy source and helping the environment regain its health, you also get to save money for the better.
Can we expect a solar dependent future?
If you wonder, will we be able to live in a future that is solar dependent? Right now, it’s quite hard to tell. A lot of aspects are needed to be considered and redesigned. If we want a solar dependent world, we have to redesign everything. This means, that not only will the government be at stake, but also private sectors and businesses.
Right now, one thing’s for sure. The journey to a solar or renewable energy-dependent world is still long. But, the changes that a lot of countries, businesses, and individuals are doing to be better energy consumers deserve to be celebrated. If you are capable of shifting to a clean energy source, take advantage of your privilege and show the Earth some love.