The History of Harnessing Solar Power Discover 2022


The History of Harnessing Solar Power

Stop 2022
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Solar panel technology now forms a significant and growing contribution to solar energy the world over. But where did the idea come from in the first place? And how did the science progress to reach the point where today businesses and homes install solar panels on rooftops to generate energy?

It turns out that if we trace the history of harnessing solar energy we reach a little known French physicist named Alexandre Edmond Becquerel. He was a well regarded scientist in his time and is credited with discovering the photovoltaic effect of sunlight on an electrode submerged in conductive fluid in 1839.

However, it would take until 1873 until English electrical engineer Willoughby Smith to discover the photoconductive properties of selenium that further progress be made. The first solar cell was created in 1883 by American inventor Charles Fritts, which had just 1% efficiency. Later down the track, US patents were filed by Edward Weston in 1888, Melvin Severy in 1894 and Harry Reagan in 1897 for different versions of the early solar cells.

It took many experiments in photovoltaics throughout the 20th century by both US and European scientists to advance the science. Leaps were made between 1916 and the 1920’s by Robert Millikan, who tested and proved the photoelectric effect existed. Polish chemist Jan Czochralski then produced a methodology to grow single crystals of metal for use in photovoltaic cells.

It took almost 100 years from A.E Becquerel’s initial discovery to reach the 1920’s when flat plate solar collectors were put to use in sunny Florida and California to provide solar hot water heating in homes and apartment buildings.

From the 1920’s to Post-War 40’s increased consumer demand for solar panels arose due to electric shortages and outages. This caused the need for solar architects, lead to Bell Telephone Labs getting involved and pushed the drive for greater efficiency from solar panels when solar cells yielded 11% more power than the first crude cell.

Fast forward to the 1970’s when solar cell technology had by this stage been more accepted around the world with smart uses for solar energy and heating for public buildings, businesses, lighthouses and remotely located off-the-grid homeowners who used it to provide efficient electricity.

Australia was one of countries at the forefront of solar technology development. In 1982 Australian native Hans Tholstrup piloted the first solar powered car over 2,800 miles in 20 days. Tholstrup is also the founder of the Australian World Solar Challenge which continues to the current day.

Since the 90’s solar PV technology has advanced in its ability to harness the sun efficiently and cost effectiveness to the point where its becoming a major feature of modern homes and businesses to reduce carbon emissions, offset power bills, do away with power bills altogether and in some cases become a source of passive income.

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