The History of Solar Energy

Solar energy has become increasingly popular for homes and businesses alike, with installations growing 35-fold to an estimated 62.5 gigawatts since 2008. To many, this seems like a recent phenomenon, but in reality, the use of solar energy has been around for thousands of years. Even solar panels, a modern invention, is not-so-modern, having been invented all the way back in the 1800s.

The first uses of solar energy

The History of Solar Energy

Technically, solar energy has been around for thousands of years, stretching back to the 7th century BCE when humans first used sunlight and magnifying glass materials to light fires. By the 3rd century BCE, the Greeks and (later) the Romans used mirrors—known as “burning mirrors”—to light torches for ceremonial purposes.

By the late 1700s, scientists took a leap forward in solar energy technology. No longer were people just using the sun to light fires, but now they were using it to power ovens for long voyages. Even steamboats were partially powered by solar energy during this time.

The invention of solar panels

The invention of solar panels began with the French scientist Edmond Becquerel who, in 1839, discovered the photovoltaic effect—a phenomenon where light can generate an electric current. It took until 1873, however, for another breakthrough when Willoughby Smith discovered selenium’s photoconductive potential. By 1883, Charles Fritts, an American inventor, created the first solar cells made out of selenium.

Modern solar panels

There’s one major difference, however, between the solar panels that Charles Fritts invented and the solar panels that we use today. Namely, modern-day solar panels are actually made out of silicon, not selenium. The switch to silicon occurred in 1954 by three scientists working at Bell Labs—Daryl Chapin, Calvin Fuller, and Gerald Pearson—making it possible to power an electric device for several hours using just solar power.

Solar energy has come a long way from the ceremonial torches our ancestors used to light. Now, we use it to power our homes and businesses for years on end. At Empire Clean Energy Supply, we can help you use solar energy to power your own home or business. Give us a call today at 631-589-4340 to learn more.