A Brief (and Somewhat Nerdy) History of Solar

Solar energy has been used by humans for as long as there is recorded history. Check out some of these milestones in humanity’s use of Earth’s primary energy source.

Lighthouse of Alexandria (280 B.C.)

Lighthouse of Alexandria

Ancient Solar: The world’s first societies knew the importance of the sun. It provided them with food, warmth, as well as some more creative uses.

● Early societies bake adobe bricks with the sun – 5000 BC
● Greeks start fires with a magnifying glass – 450 BC
● The Lighthouse of Alexandria projects a beam of light 30 miles out to sea – 280 BC
● Romans design bathhouses to be passively heated by the sun – 100 AD
● Roman Emperor Justinian declares people have “sunrights”- 600 AD

Early Solar Tech: After a lapse of solar development in the Dark Ages (get it? No sun?), Enlightenment era inventors started to harness solar rays to do real work.

World’s first solar cookers cook at 230 degrees Fahrenheit – 1750
● The photovoltaic effect is discovered by Edmond Becquerel – 1840
● Charles Fritts creates first solar cell at <1% efficiency – 1883
● First solar hot water heater sold commercially, is a huge hit in California – 1891
● Single crystal silicon, the main material in solar panels, is lab grown – 1918

Modern Solar Emerges: In an era of big oil and combustion, solar carves out a niche as a useful energy source for the space race, and remote applications.

1st Solar Panels - developed in Bell Labs - photo from Green Energy Times

1st Solar Panels – developed in Bell Labs – photo from Green Energy Times

● Energy shortage from WWII causes passive solar homes in the U.S to go mainstream – 1945
● The first modern silicon photovoltaic (PV) solar cell is created in Bell Labs – 1954
● The Vanguard I space satellite uses PV cells as its primary energy source – 1958
● World’s largest PV array, at 242 Watts, is installed on a Japanese lighthouse – 1963
● Solar PV drops from $100 to $20 per Watt, terrestrial use becomes common – 1970’s
● First solar powered car crosses Australia in 20 days – 1983
● Silicon solar cells break 20% efficiency – 1985

Present Day and Future: Rapidly declining costs create a boom in solar, as the world strives for a clean energy future.

solar plane● Solar PV drops to an average of $0.74 per Watt – 2013
● Total worldwide installed capacity reaches 100GW – 2013
● Top solar cell efficiency breaks 43%, eclipsing coal & nuclear – 2014
● Solar powered plane aims for non-stop trans global flight – 2015
● Solar PV expected to meet 17% of the world’s energy demand – 2030