The Pyramid of the Sun. Mexico

History of solar energy

History of solar energy

In one way or another, solar energy has always been present in the life of the planet being this imprescidible for the development of life. However, the way in which human civilization has exploited it invented new strategies and tools has undergone a long evolution.

The Sun is indispensable for the existence of life on the planet: it is responsible for the water cycle, photosynthesis, etc. Already the first civilizations realized this and, as civilizations have evolved, they have also evolved techniques to harness their energy. At the beginning they were techniques to take advantage of passive solar energy, later techniques were developed to take advantage of solar thermal energy, and later solar photovoltaic energy was added.

The Sun and the ancient civilizations

Architecture of ancient civilizations dedicated to the Sun

The Sun is an essential element for the development of life. The most primitive cultures have been taking advantage indirectly and without being aware of it.

Later on, many more advanced civilizations realized the importance of the Sun and developed numerous religions that revolved around the solar star. In many cases, the architecture also had a close relationship with the Sun. Examples of these civilizations would be found in Greece, Egypt, the Inca Empire, Mesopotamia, the Aztec Empire, etc.

Passive solar energy

In the aspect of passive solar energy, it is worth noting the role of the Greeks who were the first to design their houses to take advantage of sunlight, probably from 400 BC.

During the Roman Empire, glass was first used in the windows to take advantage of the light and trap the solar heat in their houses. They even enacted laws that penalized blocking access to light to neighbors.

The Romans were also the first to build glass houses or greenhouses to create suitable conditions for the growth of exotic plants or seeds that they brought to Rome from the far reaches of the empire.

Invention of Archimedes to unite the fleet by solar energy

Another form of solar use was initially developed by Archimedes. Archimedes was a physicist, engineer, inventor, astronomer and Greek mathematician, who among other things developed siege machinery. Among his military inventions he developed a system to set fire to the ships of the enemy fleets using mirrors to concentrate the solar radiation at a point. The idea of the use of mirrors continued being used in later centuries for the burning of trees and the smelting of metals, among others.

This technique continued to be perfected; Lavoisier the great French chemist, I believe in 1792 his "solar oven" consisting of two powerful lenses that concentrated the solar radiation in a focus and that allowed them to reach high temperatures with which to melt metals, as would be the case with Lavoisier's invention.

Lavoisier was a French chemist, which in 1792 created his "solar oven". This furnace consisted of two powerful lenses that concentrated the solar radiation in a focus and that allowed to reach high temperatures with which to melt metals.

In 1874 the Englishman Charles Wilson designed and directed an installation for the distillation of sea water in the Atacama desert (Chile) for the Saltpeter Lastenia Salinas. This solar power station had the capacity to desalinate an average of 22500 liters of water per day.

History of solar thermal energy. First solar thermal collectors

Horace Bénédict De Saussure In 1767 the Swiss scientist Horace Bénédict De Saussure (physicist, geologist and mountaineer) invented the heliotermometer, an instrument with which solar radiation could be measured. The further development of his invention gave rise to the current instruments for measuring solar radiation.

Horace Bénédict De Saussure had invented the solar collector that will have a decisive impact on the development of low temperature solar thermal energy. From his invention will emerge all the subsequent developments of solar flat plate water heaters that have provided hot water to millions of people in the world.

In fact, De Saussure was also able to develop the first solar collector. It was "hot boxes" & rdquo; Made of wood and glass with the aim of catching solar energy. It would be the first collector of solar thermal energy.

More recently, in 1865, the French inventor Auguste Mouchout was able to create the first machine capable of converting solar energy into mechanical energy. The mechanism was to generate steam through a solar collector and move an engine by its pressure. In 1877 Mouchout was commissioned to install several of these turbines in French Algeria. Unfortunately, the high costs prevented his invention from being used commercially.

Several years before, in 1515 Leonardo da Vinci started a project similar to that of Mouchout to produce steam and industrial heat with the heat of the Sun, but finally the project was left unfinished.

Mouchout was an important character for French society. In addition to creating the first solar steam engine he devised other inventions. Mouchout invented a solar cooker that consisted of a black tank covered with glass exposed to the Sun. On the side of the tank that was not exposed to the sun, placed a cylindrical parabolic mirror to reflect the solar radiation.

It was even possible to invent a printing press powered by solar energy. An invention that was devised by Abel Pifre.

History of photovoltaic solar energy. First photovoltaic cells

In 1838 the Frenchman Alexandre Edmond Becquerel discovered the photovoltaic effect for the first time. Bequerel was experimenting with an electrolytic battery with platinum electrodes and realized that when exposed to the Sun, the current increased. It was the beginning of photovoltaic solar energy.

The next step was taken in 1873 when the English electrical engineer Willoughby Smith discovered the photovoltaic effect in solids. In this case about Selenium.

A few years later, in 1877, the English William Grylls Adams professor of Natural Philosophy at King's College London, together with his student Richard Evans Day, discovered that when they exposed selenium to light it generated electricity. In this way, they created the first selenium photovoltaic cell.

Use of photovoltaic solar energy in satellites

In 1953, Calvin Fuller, Gerald Pearson, and Daryl Chapin, discovered the silicon solar cell. This cell produced enough electricity and was efficient enough to operate small electrical devices.

The first commercially available solar cells did not appear until 1956 although the cost was still very high for most people until about 1970, when the price of solar cells drops by about 80%.

The solar cells were used in the US and Soviet satellites launched since the late 1950s.

Temporary abandonment of solar energy

The growth of this industry was high until the mid 50's, when the low cost of natural gas and the improvement of coal extraction made this energy source the main source for warming. It was considered then, solar energy as expensive and was abandoned for industrial purposes.

The extraction of coal impaired the development of solar energy

Resurgence of solar energy

The abandonment, for practical purposes, of solar energy lasted until the 70's. But in those years the increase in the price of oil and gas led to a resurgence in the use of solar energy to heat homes and water, as well as in the generation of electricity.

In addition to the price, in the case of household gas and coal water heaters, they were dangerous since poor combustion could generate toxic gases, carbon monoxide.

The first solar hot water heater was patented in 1891 by Clarence Kemp.

In this sense, an important development was a highly efficient solar heater invented by Charles Greeley Abbott in 1936. The solar water heater became popular by this time in Florida, California and other places in the US.

The 1990 Gulf War further increased interest in solar energy as a viable oil alternative.

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Last review: December 16, 2015