Modern solar power has only been around for approximately 60 years. The discoveries that created the solar cell occurred approximately 200 years ago. It is these discoveries concerning the properties of conductivity as well as light that led to the development of modern solar power.
The photovoltaic effect was discovered by a French scientist named Edmond Becquerel in 1839. It is the process of light being absorbed by a material and causing electrical voltage to occur.
In 1873, the photoconductivity of selenium was discovered by Willoughby Smith, an English electrical engineer. This process made selenium electrically conductive and able to absorb light. In 1876, Richard Evans Day and William Grylls Adams realized selenium could produce electricity from light. It did not require any moving parts or heat. This was proof that solar power could easily be harvested and maintained.
First Solar Cell
In 1883, Charles Fritts created the first solar cell. A thin layer of gold was used to coat selenium. It had an energy conversion rate between 1 and 2 percent. Modern solar cells are between 15 and 20 percent.
Observing Photoelectric Effect
The first photoelectric effect observation took place in 1887 by a German physicist named Heinrich Hertz. Light was used to free electrons from a solid surface and then utilized to create power. Hertz discovered more power was produced with exposure to ultraviolet light and not just visible light.
Commercial Production Of Silicon Solar Cells
In 1953, Bell Laboratories physicists realized silicon provides more efficiency than selenium. This led to the creation of the first practical solar cell. It meant solar power could be used to power electrical equipment. Western Electric started selling a commercial license for Silicon PV technologies in 1956.
Solar Energy Used In Space
Solar energy had improved its efficiency so much the government used it to provide power to space exploration equipment. In 1958, the first solar-powered satellite began orbiting the earth.
Research Decreases Costs
During the 1970s, Exxon Corporation funded research able to create solar cells with cheaper materials and lower-grade silicon. This reduced the cost from $100 per watt to as low as $20 per watt.
First Solar Parks
The first solar power plant or solar park was built in 1982 at Hesperia, California. It was able to produce 1 megawatt per hour when operating at full capacity. It could provide power for a 100-kilowatt light bulb for approximately 10 hours and more. A second park was ultimately built in Carrizo Plains, California.
Creation Of Retractable RV Solar Panels
In 1995, Thomas Faludy filed a patent for a retractable awning that had solar cells integrated into it. It provided a way for solar cells to be used with recreational vehicles.
Advancements in Photovoltaic Conversion
A new solar cell was developed in 1994 by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. It was created from gallium indium phosphide and gallium arsenide. The new cell had more than 30 percent conversion efficiency. This same laboratory ultimately created thin-film solar cells that had 32 percent conversion efficiency.
DIY Solar Panels.
In 2005, DIY solar panels started to be made available to consumers. They quickly became popular and today there are many ways available to make solar panels.
Flexible Printed Solar Panels
Solar cells as thin as paper started being manufactured in 2015. They are rated at a 20 percent power conversion efficiency. These strips are inexpensive to produce as well as flexible.
Discovery Of Sunless Solar Power
In 2016, a research team from the Australian National University and the University of California in Berkeley were able to discover new properties of nanomaterial. One of them was magnetic hyperbolic dispersion. This refers to a material that when heated will glow. This was combined with thermophotovoltaic cells and able to turn heat into electricity without sunlight.
There have been significant advances in solar power during the past 200 years. It started by observing the properties of light and working to find a way to convert it into usable energy. This technology continues to advance and is growing at an impressive rate.