The year 1767 saw the first solar collector ever, being designed and built by Swiss scientist Horace de Saussure to boil ammonia. In 1838, Edmund Becquerel made some progress in the field of solar energy conversion, but it was mostly on paper and did not have a practical implementation at the time. The first solar motor or engine is credited to Auguste Mouchout, who created the original solar powered steam engine. Although Mouchout earned recognition for his feat, the French monarch, who had funded this project, did not allow further funding as it was very expensive and coal was considered to be a cheaper and more practical solution for energy needs at the time. As Willoughby Smith was busy finding a suitable material for telegraph cables that had to run underwater, he came across selenium and seeing that the material was capable of capturing solar energy, he experimented a little with the idea of solar cells in 1873. The year 1876 saw the first implementation of the Power Tower concept in producing a solar powered, 2.5 hp steam engine by William Adams and Richard day. 1883 is the year in which Charles Fritz managed to make the first selenium solar cell, capable of converting sunlight into usable electrical energy. Another Frenchman once again played a key role in the history of solar energy from the year 1885 to 1889. Charles Tellier, better known for his innovations in the refrigerating department, was the first person to install a roof based solar powered water heater for his home and in 1891, Clarence Kemp commercialized the solar water heaters for the first time.
Efforts were made in the 20th century by people like Aubrey Eneas and Henry Willsie to establish an industry around the solar power technology, but due to weather factors and the extremely steep costs involved, their companies could not continue business successfully. Only Frank Shuman and E.P. Haines, from 1906 to 1914, managed to build Sun Power Co Ltd which made an effective solar irrigation facility outside Cairo, but was eventually destroyed in the “Great War”. It was in the 1950s that the solar power industry made remarkable progress, chiefly due to the discovery and manufacturing of silicon solar panels, which raised the efficiency rate from 2% to 6%. Vanguard 1, the first solar powered satellite was also launched during this time. From a very expensive $300 per watt, the price for solar energy came down to a more affordable $20 per watt in the 1970s, mostly owing to the effects of the famous “OPEC Oil Embargo”. It is a dark day in the history of solar power When Luz Co. was force closed in 1991 due to lack of funding from the investors. The company was so big that it supplied more than ninety percent of the entire world’s total need of solar power, but the immediate profit associated with the now declining price of oil and coal managed to lure away the investors. As technology keeps on improving and the costs and hazards of solar energy keeps on decreasing, our chances of saving the planet’s limited resources for longer and keeping down the pollution levels also, is increasing.
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