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History of Solar Energy

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Think about it. The sun has always been put on a pedestal because of its innate abilities to provide a few elements that make life a tad easier; light, for one. But even those who have always been in reverence of the suns abilities hardly grasped the full extent of its power. Solar energy is all the rave in the 21st century. It might interest you to know however, that it isn’t such a new concept after all.

Where it all Began

Solar energy dates back a few centuries; and its first use was in the 7th century B.C.

The solar energy trend advanced over time and was probed even further by inquisitive minds.  By 1876, William Grylls Adams along with a student of his, Richard Day, discovered that when selenium was exposed to light; it produced electricity.

Recounting the history of solar energy in such a brief summary might under emphasize all the events that have culminated to today’s reality – so here is a timeline of the development of solar energy; from the ancient days till date.

The Sunlit Ants & Archimedes Heat Ray – 700-214 BC

Like we mentioned earlier, the use of concentrated sun rays to kill ants was perhaps the first event that shed some light on the potential of sunlight. Whether or not this spurred on the next event is unclear, because by 3rd century BC, historians claimed that Archimedes – a then Greek inventor, came up with a solar powered heat ray that he used to destroy enemy ships during the Siege of Syracuse.

While the Archimedes heat ray has been scientifically proven to be possible phenomena, scientists also insist that it is unlikely – especially considering the circumstances that would need to be in place for the heat ray to effectively carry out its function.

Sun-baked Food – 1767

More than two and a half centuries after its invention, solar ovens are still quite popular. In 1767, a Swiss physicist Horace de Saussure invented the solar oven it is used to heat meals and drinks. They were only reliant on sunlight and even today solar ovens are useful for makinf food in parts of the world where electricity is inaccessible.

Photoconductivity & Photovoltaic Effect 1839- 1873

Soon after the use of solar cookers and ovens became predominant, a 19 year old French scientist Edmund Becquerel saw the creation of voltage when light and certain materials met. This laid the foundation of solar power, and soon after an English Engineer Willoughby Smith discovered photoconductivity in solid selenium.

Electricity’s First Spark– 1876

Picking up from where Edmund and Smith stopped William Grylls Adams, and his student, Richard Evans Day used two electrodes on a plate of selenium and observed a tiny amount of electricity – which was, before then – a vague concept. Unfortunately, their research didn’t go any further
Photovoltaic Cells & the Photo-Electric Effect
But by 1883 Charles Fritts, an American Inventor took the plunge and decided to design his first solar cells. He structured his first design based on selenium wafers before Albert Einsten – who is famous for his many contributions to science delivered a paper on the photoelectric effect where he described how light can liberate electrons on a metal surface. For which he won a Nobel Prize.

Electricity! – 1954

It wasn’t until the first solar cell was invented; that David ChapinCalvin Fuller and Gerald Pearson of Bell Labs converted solar energy conveniently into electricity. A number of other developments saw the conversion efficiency of the cells move from 4% to 11%. And overtime the cost of solar energy has gradually receded; with prices of solar energy related material dropping by at least 10% since the year 1980.

And Now…

You have a chance to contribute to the growing trend. Take note that the more people who adopt solar energy; the cheaper and more accessible it becomes to people who have no alternate means of electricity. Not to mention, you stand a chance of amassing a small fortune in savings; just from choosing solar power over the more conventional alternatives.
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