Owning a solar power system isn’t as uncommon as it was just a few years ago. But the history of solar energy is an interesting and surprising story. While humanity has enjoyed the sun and used its warmth and light for our entire existence, it wasn’t until the last few hundred years that we were able to harness the sun’s energy for electricity.
The development of the first solar power system began with observations in 1839. In a decade where the United States was only twenty-six states large and the sewing machine just began to be used, Alexandre Edmond Becquerel observed something interesting. He noticed that some materials, when exposed to light, would produce small amounts of electric current. Becquerel experimented with this for a while, and documented his discoveries.
Thirty-seven years later, William Grylls Adams and his student Richard Evans Day refined this discovery with the observation of selenium. Selenium produced energy when exposed to light, and these two men created a photovoltaic cell to harness and convert this energy into usable electricity. However, it was only a small experimental cell and not easily reproducible or cost-efficient. It only produced electricity at 1-2% efficiency.
Developing a Solar Power System Becomes Reality
It was over 100 years later, in 1954, that creating a solar power system became a real possibility. Researchers at Bell Laboratories patented the first practical solar cell, using silicon rather than selenium. The next year, these solar cells began to be sold. Though they were only 2% efficient, compared to an average of 18% efficient today, these sold for $1,785 per watt in the equivalent of 1955 dollars.
In the 1960s and 70s, however, solar power began to be more practical. Efficiency levels grew to close to 10% with new technology, and the idea of renewable energy was becoming more and more popular. Further, space exploration was becoming a greater priority, and a solar power system seemed like a useful alternative energy source for space travel. Solar-powered calculators and watches entered the scene. By the 1980s, solar power was readily available to citizens, and federal acts gave incentives and tax credits to installing renewable energy in homes. In 1983, sales of solar cells exceeded $250,000,000.
History since the 1980s has seen continuous growth of the pervasiveness and quantity of solar energy technology. Countries around the world have instituted bills and laws to help provide solar energy for their citizens, and technology is only becoming more and more efficient and refined. Further, solar is much more readily available than it was when it first began. While prices used to be $1,785 per watt, they’re now predicted to be below $1 per watt by 2020. Solar technology may have had a slow start, but it’s quickly becoming one of the most significant areas of technological advancement in our history. Are you looking to own a solar power system? Get started with California solar today with Semper Solaris.