Solar energy history

Solar energy history

Human beings have always realized the benefit of solar energy and, ever since ancient Greece, people have been harnessing the power of the sun in order to assist them in heating their homes and going about their daily tasks. Solar energy as we know it today, however, is a more recent design that has only become economically feasible in the past few decades.

The first active solar motor was invented by Auguste Mouchout in 1861 and utilized solar power to entirely provide a fuel source for a steam engine. This was originally developed in order to provide an alternative to fossil fuels powering the Industrial Revolution at the time, though the lowering costs of readily available fuels such as English coal and other oils made the solar engine economically unfeasible at the time. The interest in solar energy however did not lessen, as scientists around Europe developed large cone-shaped collectors that could be used to produce locomotion and refrigeration based upon the heating of ammonia. There were even hopes in both France and England at the time that solar energy could be used to power their colonies in Africa and East Asia.

In the United States during the Civil War Swedish-born John Erickson, the famed inventor of the USS Monitor that greatly assisted the Union in naval battles, was also able to develop a trough collector that could function in a similar way that many solar cells developed nearly one hundred years later do. Unfortunately solar energy continued to dwindle in the early 20’s century until a major jumping point was hit in 1921 when Albert Einstein won the Nobel Prize in physics for his research on the photoelectric effect, the basis for all solar power in modern day technology.

The modern silicon-based solar cell was first developed over 30 years later in 1953 by Bell Laboratories (now known as AT&T Labs), where scientists Gerald Pearson, Derryl Chapin and Calvin Fuller successfully developed the first silicon solar cell capable of generating measurable electrical current that could be usable in modern society. Though the cost of producing electricity with these cells at the time was extraordinary (nearly 60 times the cost of other conventional fuel) the Space Race in the 50s and 60s was able to help support the development of solar energy as satellites and other space craft used solar paneling for their own electrical production and operation.

The major kick-off of solar energy development happened later, though, in 1973 when the Arab Oil Embargo sent the price of fossil fuels skyrocketing throughout many Western countries. The US government at that point point decided heavily invest in a number of fuel-saving projects including solar electric cells in order to help drive down the costs of economical fuel production and make them more readily available for consumers nationwide. By the 1990s the cost had in fact been successfully driven down, however the lowering of fossil fuel costs at the same time helped bring about consumers turning once again to fossil fuels rather than alternative power. Other markets of the world such as Japan and Germany, though, continued to develop and promote solar energy production throughout the 90s and encouraged wide-spread usage of solar cells throughout their countries, helping to further drop solar cell costs and encourage greater production and efficiency. As it stands now the solar power industry is growing at approximately 30% per year as more and more people are turning to solar power over conventional fossil fuels for their energy needs, indicating increasing realization of solar cells as both a feasible energy source as well as an environmentally friendly alternative to traditional fossil fuels.

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