History of Solar Energy, Solar Power, and Solar Panels

Illustration of Alexandre-Edmond Becquerel who discovered the operating principle of the solar cell

Humans have long used the power of the sun, but it hasn’t been until recently that we’ve been able to take that solar power and concentrate it for later use. Today we’re finally realizing the dream: The effective use of residential solar panels to harness solar energy in an economical way for the homeowner. But where did it all begin?


A helpful place to start in the history of modern day solar energy is in 1839 with Alexandre-Edmond Becquerel, a French physicist who discovered the photovoltaic effect when he was just 19. His discovery that some materials would produce electric current when exposed to light is the basis of today’s current photovoltaic (PV) cell, although it would take more than 100 years before the technology caught up with the idea.


French mathematician Augustin Mouchot experimented with creating solar powered steam engines and came up with the first parabolic trough solar collector in the 1860s. Along with his assistant, Abel Pifre, the two constructed the engines, but as coal energy became more economical in France, the interest in his work and solar energy faded.


In 1873, Willoughby Smith discovered the photoconductivity of selenium. This discovery was followed in 1876 by William Grylls Adams and Richard Evans Day’s eureka moment that selenium produces electricity when exposed to light. Then, in 1883, American inventor Charles Fritts created the first selenium cell.


The real jump in innovation came in 1954 when three men, Daryl Chapin, Calvin Fuller, and Gerald Pearson, came up with the silicon photovoltaic cell at Bell Labs. This cell was capable of converting the sun’s energy into solar power at a rate that made its use practical. Their first cell had 4 percent efficiency. Shortly thereafter, in 1958, photovoltaic systems were successfully used in satellites.


Starting in the 1970s, solar began to take off. It was then that Elliot Berman, in conjunction with Exxon Corporation, designed a less expensive solar cell, bringing the price from $100 a watt to $20. Exxon used these on offshore gas and oil rigs, among other applications.


In the 1980s, 1990s, and into and beyond the 2000s, scientists have continued to make solar cells more energy efficient and also cheaper, allowing businesses and residences to rely on them for their power needs at an affordable price. The market for residential solar panels is one that continues to grow, and it’s making solar energy an affordable choice for many. For more info, go to Verengo ® Solar.




What Can You Save With Solar?

With no end in sight for soaring electricity rates, your switch to solar will secure affordable power for your home & family for years to come.