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Solar Energy History

Solar Energy History

The earth enjoys much sunlight providing sufficient energy to fulfill the needs of people. Solar energy is very beneficial both to man and his surroundings because it is free, readily accessible, renewable and does not cause pollution. While it may have its pros and cons, the pros are far greater.

Solar energy may have been fully harnessed only in the recent years as an alternative energy, it has actually been used a long time ago. Its early use can be traced to the time of the ancient Greeks who built their homes in orientation to the sun. 

Solar Energy History

The ancient Greeks and Romans started the now commonly called passive solar design in architecture. This method makes use of the sun’s energy to provide light and heat to indoor spaces. In fact, it was Greek philosopher Socrates who wrote “in houses that look toward the south, the sun penetrates the portico in winter.” 

After the Greeks, the Romans improved on the design and covered the buildings’ openings that faced south with glass or mica to absorb the heat of the sun during winter. This advancement offset the use and burning of wood to make people and homes warm during the cold months. 

Later on in 1861, a man named Auguste Mouchout invented a steam engine powered by solar energy. The invention, however, did not succeed due to its high cost and the drop in the price of English coal at that time. 

Fortunately, that failure challenged more scientists in Europe to come up with new technologies. In the 19th century, large cone-shaped collectors were created to boil ammonia and eventually perform tasks such as locomotion and refrigeration. 

For his part, Swedish-born John Ericsson was making ways to use solar energy for homes in the United States. He eventually created the parabolic trough collector. This man is the brains behind the USS Monitor, an armored ship used in the U.S. Civil War. 

Breakthroughs in Solar Energy

The first half of the 20th century saw some breakthroughs in the use of solar energy.

  • Famous scientist Albert Einstein became the recipient of the 1921 Nobel Peace Prize in physics for his research on the effect of photoelectric. This photoelectric effect is strongly related to electricity generation via solar cells. 

  • Scientists from the former Bell Laboratories, now AT&T Labs, developed the first silicon solar cell that could generate electric current. According to the New York Times, “the discovery will eventually lead to the harnessing of almost limitless solar energy for use of civilization.”

  • The Space Race that occurred in the 1950s and 1960s gave way for the progress of solar energy as satellites and crafts utilized solar panels for electricity. 

  • October 17, 1973 was the date when solar energy became popular in energy research. It was a result of Arab Oil Embargo that led leaders to look for ways to reduce oil dependence. The U.S. government then invested greatly in the solar electric cell discovered by Bell Laboratories.

  • In 2005, a report on renewable energy revealed that the solar system is the fastest growing technology with a 60 percent yearly increase in capacity from 2000 to 2004. Currently, about 40 million homes worldwide use solar collectors in heating water while two million homes use solar lighting systems. 

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