The History of Solar energy

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Shortened for an easy read  

The Starting ideas of solar power have been around for a long time. From the Romans using the sun to illuminate glass and designs for entertainment to starting fires, we have used the sun as a way to power, albeit primitive but effective, technologies.  

In theory, solar energy was used by humans as early as the 7th century B.C. when history tells us that humans used sunlight to light fires with magnifying glass materials. Later on, around the 3rdcentury B.C., the Greeks and Romans were known to harness solar power with mirrors to light torches for religious ceremonies.  

But the Solar power as we know it started development much closer to us than ancient Rome.   

When were solar panels invented?  

The development of solar panel technology was an iterative one that took a number of contributions from various scientists. Some people credit the invention of the first solar cell to French scientist Edmond Becquerel, who found that light could increase electricity generation when two metal electrodes were placed into a conducting solution. This breakthrough, defined as the “photovoltaic effect,” was influential in later PV developments with the element selenium.  

In 1873, Willoughby Smith discovered that selenium had photoconductive potential, leading to William Grylls Adams’ and Richard Evans Day’s 1876 discovery that selenium creates electricity when exposed to sunlight. A few years later in 1883, Charles Fritts actually produced the first solar cells made from selenium wafers – the reason some historians credit Fritts with the actual invention of solar cells.  

However, solar cells as we know them today are made with silicon, not selenium. Therefore, some consider the true invention of solar panels to be tied to Daryl Chapin, Calvin Fuller, and Gerald Pearson’s creation of the silicon photovoltaic (PV) cell at Bell Labs in 1954. Many argue that this event marks the true invention of PV technology because it was the first instance of solar technology that could actually power an electric device for several hours of a day. The first-ever silicon solar cell could convert sunlight at four percent efficiency, less than a quarter of what modern cells are capable of.  

How are solar panels being used today?  

Today solar panels are being used as an alternate power solution to our previous fossil fuel systems. This can be seen in the increase of houses that have solar panel roofing and the devotion of more land to solar farms. This can power anything from central heating and your car to your kettle and toaster.  

In some cases, we have even seen solar panels be used in space exploration as a way to power vessels for long space voyages. As you look around the streets you are almost guaranteed to find at least one house that has solar panels fitted. Solar panels are becoming  more and more popular every day with 40% of people in the UK saying that they would consider solar power in 2020 compared to 20% in 2019.