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A Brief History Of Solar Energy

Posted by Alexa Layne

It is essential to be comfortable with the growing solar energy industry, and the best way to do that is to understand its history. In 1839, Edmond Becquerel had observed the photovoltaic effect through an electrode in a conductive solution exposed to light. This is the first time we see scientists conduct solar-related research, according to Thought Co.

A long time had past before any more development but, after a few decades, the first solar cell was built. Encyclopedia Britannica explains that in 1883 the first solar cell was developed by Charles Fritts, who used a semiconductor called selenium and an thin layer of gold. This solar cell was less than 1% efficient, providing a large amount of room to be discovered in order to build on the Fritts model.

Throughout the 20th century, scientists and researchers continued to discover different materials and methods to better the solar industry. APS Physics reports that one breakthrough happened in April 25, 1954 when Bell Labs demonstrated the first practical silicon solar cell. The cell was only 6% efficient but, this silicon solar cell model was instrumental to a more rapid growth of the industry.

Two other major feats of solar happened in the 20th century. First, NASA launched Vanguard 1, the world’s first solar-powered satellite, in 1958. This exhibited solar to the world and, to this day, Vanguard 1 is oldest artificial object orbiting Earth. Second, according to, “in June 1979, [President Jimmy Carter] had a $28,000 solar-heating system installed on the White House roof. The system consisted of 32 photovoltaic panels that generated enough energy to provide hot water for the entire White House”. This really pushed sustainability and environment conversions into the American political sphere.

In the past few years, we have seen enormous strides in the solar energy. Continuing with the plan of Jimmy Carter, Even though these panels were removed by Reagan, in 2013 The Washington Postannounced that President Barack Obama installed solar panels on the white house. Also, in 2016 Australian Broadcasting Corporation details an important world record set by University of New South Wales engineers. These engineers developed solar cell that converts almost 35% of sunlight into electricity. 35% efficiency is revolutionary and they are currently working on bringing down costs for their cell.

The history of the solar industry is full of important scientific discoveries and a push towards an environmentally friendly way of life. It is amazing that solar cells were 1% efficient in 1883, and today they can be about 35% efficient. The vast improvement that has been made allows us to see a bright future for solar energy. The more everyone is familiar with the history of the industry, the more it will grow and prosper.

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