Jul 17, 2020

The Great History of Solar Energy & Direction of the Market

The history of solar energy dates back all the way to 7th century B.C. when people used magnifying glasses to start fires. Later in the 3rd century B.C. Greeks and Romans used mirrors to harness the sun’s energy to light torches for religious events. Stemming from simple beginnings, solar energy has played a major role in our lives throughout history, and we’re excited to educate you on all the important milestones of using solar energy.

Solar Energy And Ancient Civilizations

The role solar energy plays in our lives has been recognized by every civilization across time. Not only was it used by the Greeks and Romans for religions, but they also used solar energy for other purposes. In fact, the Greeks structured their cities in a way that allowed every house and building to have access to sunlight during winter months. The Romans built their bathhouse so that their southern walls consisted entirely of windows, allowing the sun’s energy to warm the bathhouses.

Other civilizations, such as the ancient Egyptians, used the sun’s energy to heat their homes. They built their homes to face the sun during the day so they could store the sun’s heat, and then using that heat on cold nights to help keep their homes warm. On hot days this energy was used to help regulate the temperatures in their homes, helping to keep them cool. 

Discovery Of The Photovoltaic (PV) Effect 

Fast forward to 1839, and we have the discovery of the photovoltaic (PV) effect. French physicist Edmond Becquerel discovered the PV effect when he was experimenting with a cell made of metal electrodes in a conducting solution. During this experiment, he noted that the cell produced more electricity when it was exposed to light.

A few decades later, in 1873, Willoughby Smith discovered that selenium, an element that we now know helps solar cells be more efficient, could function as a photoconductor. The next milestone in the timeline of solar energy was in 1876 when William Grylls Adams and Richard Evans Day confirmed that selenium, when applied to the PV effect, could generate electricity when exposed to sunlight. 

The Invention of The Solar Cell 

Now that the PV effect has been discovered, the next step was to see how it could be used to make solar cells. In 1883, Charles Fritts constructed the first solar cell, which was made from selenium. Although they aren’t the same solar cells we use today, which are made of silicon, it was a major milestone in the creation of solar cells as we now know them. 

The next breakthrough in the history of solar cells was in 1954 when Daryl Chapin, Calvin Fuller, and Gerald Pearson created the first silicon PV cell at Bell Labs. This silicon cell was capable of converting enough of the sun’s energy into power to power everyday items. This silicon cell first achieved a 4% efficiency, increasing to 11% efficiency later on. Although the 4% is much lower than what we can expect now, which is about 15-20%, it was still a milestone worth celebrating.

Modern Solar Energy and The Direction of The Market 

Solar energy began to be incorporated in mainstream America in 2000 when a family in Morrison, Colorado, installed a 12-kilowatt solar energy system on their home, the largest residential installation in the U.S. to be registered with the U.S. Department of Energy. A year later in 2001, Home Depot began selling residential solar power systems in three of their San Diego, California locations, later expanding sales nationwide. 

So where is solar energy going now? Well, it’s no surprise that solar energy is popular, with it accounting for “40% of all new electric generating capacity in the U.S. in 2019”. The cost of installing solar panels has decreased by more than 70% over the last decade, which has led to new markets across the country. Looking forward, the solar energy market is projected to reach $223.3 billion by 2026, growing at a CAGR of 20.5% from 2019 to 2026.


Looking to be a part of such a quick-growing industry? Contact us to learn more about installing solar in your home!

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