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The Pyramid of the Sun. Mexico

History of Solar Energy

History of solar energy

Throughout history, solar energy has always been present in the life of the planet. This source of energy has always been essential for the development of life. Over time, humanity has increasingly improved the strategies for its use.

The Sun is essential for the existence of life on the planet. It is responsible for the water cycle, photosynthesis, etc.

First civilizations realized this and developed techniques to harness their energy have also evolved.

At first they were techniques to harness passive solar energy. Later techniques were developed to take advantage of solar thermal energy from the sun's rays. Later, photovoltaic solar energy was added to obtain electrical energy.

When Was Solar Energy Discovered?

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

History of solar energyLater, a large number of more advanced civilizations developed numerous religions that revolved around the solar star. In many cases, the architecture was also closely related to the Sun.

Examples of these civilizations we would find in Greece, Egypt, the Inca Empire, Mesopotamia, the Aztec Empire, etc.

Passive Solar Energy

The Greeks were the first to use passive solar energy in a conscious way.

Approximately, from the year 400 before Christ, the Greeks already began to make their houses taking into account the solar rays. These were the beginnings of bioclimatic architecture.

During the Roman Empire, glass was used for the first time in windows. It was made to take advantage of light and trap solar heat in homes. They even enacted laws that made it a penalty for blocking access to electricity for neighbors.

The Romans were the first to build glass houses or greenhouses. These constructions allow the creation of suitable conditions for the growth of exotic plants or seeds that they brought from afar. These constructions are still used today.

History of solar energy

Another form of solar use was initially developed by Archimedes. Among his military inventions he developed a system to set fire to the ships of enemy fleets. The technique consisted in using mirrors to concentrate solar radiation at one point.

This technique continued to be refined. In 1792, Lavoisier created his solar furnace. It consisted of two powerful lenses that concentrated solar radiation in a focus.

In 1874 the Englishman Charles Wilson designed and directed an installation for the distillation of seawater.

When Were Solar Collectors Invented? History of Solar Thermal Energy

Solar thermal energy has a place in the history of solar energy from the year 1767. In this year the Swiss scientist Horace Bénédict De Saussure invented an instrument with which solar radiation could be measured. The further development of his invention gave rise to today's instruments for measuring solar radiation.

History of solar energyHorace 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 subsequent developments of flat plate solar water heaters. The invention was about hot boxes made of wood and glass with the aim of trapping solar energy.

In 1865, the French inventor Auguste Mouchout created the first machine that converted solar energy into mechanical energy. The mechanism was about generating steam through a solar collector.

History of Photovoltaic Solar Energy. First Photovoltaic Cells

In 1838 photovoltaic solar energy appeared in the history of solar power.

In 1838, the French physicist Alexandre Edmond Becquerel discovered the photovoltaic effect for the first time. Becquerel was experimenting with an electrolytic cell with platinum electrodes. He realized that exposing it to the sun increased the electrical current.

In 1873, the English electrical engineer Willoughby Smith discovered the photoelectric effect in solids using Selenium.

Charles Fritts (1850-1903) was a natural from the United States. He was credited with creating the first photocell of the world in 1883. The device that converts solar energy into electricity.

Fritts developed coated selenium as a semiconductor material with a very thin layer of gold. The resulting cells produced electricity and had a conversion efficiency of only 1% due to the properties of selenium.

A few years later, in 1877, the Englishman William Grylls Adams Professor 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.

History of solar energy

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

Aleksandr Stoletov built the first solar cell based on the outdoor photoelectric effect. He also estimated the response time of the current photoelectric.

Commercially available photovoltaic panels did not appear until 1956. However, the cost of solar PV was still very high for most people. By about 1970, the price of photovoltaic solar panels dropped by almost 80%.

Why Was the Use of Solar Energy Temporarily Abandoned?

With the advent of fossil fuels, solar energy lost importance. Development of solar suffered from the low cost of coal and oil and the use of non-renewable energy.

The growth of the solar industry was high until the mid-50's. At this time the cost of extracting fossil fuels like natural gas and coal was very low. For this reason the use of fossil energy became of great importance as an energy source and to generate heat. Solar energy was then considered expensive and abandoned for industrial purposes.

What Prompted the Resurgence of Solar Energy?

History of solar energyThe abandonment, for practical purposes, of solar installations lasted until the 70's. Economic reasons would once again put solar energy in a prominent place in history.

During those years the price of fossil fuels rose. This increase led to a resurgence in the use of solar energy to heat homes and water, as well as in the generation of electricity. Photovoltaic panels are especially useful for homes without a grid connection.

In addition to the price, they were dangerous since poor combustion could generate toxic gases.

The first solar domestic hot water heater was patented in 1891 by Clarence Kemp. Charles Greeley Abbot in 1936 invented the solar water heater.

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

Many countries have decided to promote solar technology. In large part to try to reverse the environmental problems derived from climate change.

Currently, there are modern solar systems such as solar hybrid panels. These new systems are more efficient and cheaper.

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Published: December 16, 2015
Last review: August 31, 2020