The sun has been the most reliable source of energy for our planet since its inception. But who discovered how to harness its power? Was it a single person or a collective effort over time?
The history of solar energy discovery dates back to ancient times when humans used magnifying glasses to start fires. However, it wasn’t until the 19th century that scientists started to seriously study solar energy and its potential applications.
In this blog, we’ll explore the history of solar energy discovery, the scientists who made significant contributions to this field, and how their work led to the solar technology we use today.
Over recent times, solar energy has gained popularity as the earth is facing tremendous negative impacts due to the usage of non-renewable energy sources that cause the earth to deteriorate bit by bit.
Harnessing the energy from the sun is a clean and effective way to replace the burning of fossils and fuels, this can help save the environment and conserve it in the long run by reducing the emissions of harmful gases and other pollutants. Climate change is the biggest problem, moving into renewable sources can help combat this and reduce the impacts of those pollutants.
Did you know, that solar energy usage has increased by a whopping 50% in the past decade and it is one of the fastest-growing forms of non-renewable energy sources? This is expected to escalate more rapidly as we near the year 2050. This blog is written to educate you on the history of solar energy, how it was discovered and what the future holds for us in this sect.
The Early Days
The use of solar power dates back to ancient times when civilizations such as the Greeks and the Chinese used it for practical purposes. The Greeks used solar energy for heating, while the Chinese used it to create a solar-powered water heater. In ancient Rome, the “Heliocaminus” was a solar-powered furnace built to provide heat and hot water for public baths. These early examples demonstrate the recognition of the sun’s energy and its potential to be harnessed for practical purposes.
In addition to practical applications, there were also early experiments with solar power. In the 3rd century B.C., the Greek philosopher Aristarchus proposed a theory that the earth revolves around the sun. Later in the 1st century B.C., Roman architect and engineer Vitruvius described a device that could use mirrors to focus the sun’s rays and create a beam of light that could set ships on fire. While these early experiments did not result in practical solar technology, they laid the foundation for future exploration of solar power.
The 19th Century
The 19th century played a huge role because it was around this time when photovoltaic cells were discovered, due to rigorous research. One of the pioneers in this field was Alexandre Edmond Becquerel, a French physicist who discovered the photovoltaic effect in 1839. He noticed that certain materials produced an electric current when exposed to light.
His experiments involved placing two different metals in an electrolyte solution and exposing them to light, which caused an electric current to flow between the metals. Although he was not able to convert this current into useful energy, Becquerel’s discovery paved the way for further research in this area.
Another important figure in the development of solar energy in the 19th century was William Grylls Adams, a British physicist who worked with his student Richard Day to study the photoelectric effect. In 1876, Adams and Day discovered that selenium, a chemical element, produced an electric current when exposed to light.
This discovery marked the first time that anyone had been able to generate electricity directly from sunlight. Adams and Day’s experiments led to the development of selenium solar cells, which were used to power early telegraph systems. Although these early solar cells were not very efficient, they demonstrated the potential of solar energy as a viable alternative to fossil fuels.
The 20th Century
In the early 1900s, Albert Einstein introduced his famous theory of the photoelectric effect, which helped to explain how light energy could be converted into electricity. Einstein’s theory suggested that light was made up of individual packets of energy, known as photons and that these photons could knock electrons loose from the atoms in a material, creating an electrical current.
This theory provided the foundation for the development of modern solar panels, which use the photovoltaic effect to generate electricity from sunlight. Einstein’s work was further built upon by other scientists, such as Robert Millikan, who refined the measurement of the photoelectric effect and demonstrated the potential of solar power as a practical source of electricity.
The development of solar panels continued throughout the 20th century, with new materials and technologies being developed to make them more efficient and cost-effective. In the 1950s, researchers at Bell Labs developed the first practical solar cell, which was made from silicon and could generate electricity at 4% efficiency.
By the 1970s, solar cells had become more widely available and were being used to power a variety of applications, from satellites in space to remote communication stations on Earth. Throughout the rest of the century, advances in manufacturing and technology continued to make solar panels more affordable and efficient, paving the way for the widespread adoption of solar power in the 21st century.
The world is developing and finding new and innovative ways to combat climate change and make the earth more greener and safer. Researchers and developers have been trying to make and find new ways to make solar panels more cheaper and effective, thus accessible for all kinds of families and countries. New materials and compounds have been innovated and have been in testing for a while, hence we can see the implementations more often, which can in turn, not restore the world, but it can somewhat combat and reduce the negative effects.
As we advance into the future, new and brighter innovations are being brought up and put to work with immediate effect. Harnessing the power from the sun has been used in several innovative new methods to help combat the negative effects and restore the beauty of the earth. For instance, in the transportation sect, solar-powered cars are being more emphasized and bragged about to raise awareness, thus the availability of fully solar-powered or hybrid cars.
The same applies to boats and other form of vehicles too. Solar energy has also been used to power up buildings and infrastructures by integrating solar panels in them to save and use the power when necessary. Moreover, several developing countries have also implemented harnessing the energy from the sun and making it more profound, thus producing clean energy and improving the lives of millions.
Solar energy has a rich history that spans millennia, from the practical uses of ancient civilizations to the cutting-edge innovations of the modern era. This renewable energy source has enormous potential to revolutionize our energy systems and reduce our reliance on fossil fuels.
By exploring and educating ourselves on the early days of solar power, where and when it was discovered, and how the scientist discovered the photoelectric effect. It brings about a sense of appreciation towards them. With recent developments being more effective and cost-friendly, we can see more organizations and homes using this technology to harness the power of the sun to produce cleaner energy. It is time for us to take the matter into our own hands and implement strategies to save mother nature and preserve it at all costs.