Looking Back at the History of Solar Power

If you’ve heard about the benefits of solar power near The Villages and North Central Florida, you may be interested in learning that the use of solar energy is not a new concept. In fact, people have been harnessing the sun’s power for centuries.

Solar Ovens

Solar-powered ovens rely on the sun’s heat to warm foods and drinks. The first known use of solar ovens occurred in 1767. The invention of a Swiss physicist by the name of Horace de Saussure, these solar ovens consisted of an insulated box fitted with three layers of glass that were used to collect and trap heat. Today, solar ovens are popular in locations where electricity is difficult to access, and are powered by sunlight alone.

Solar Power

Solar Electricity

In the year 1873, Willoughby Smith, an English engineer, discovered that selenium, a chemical element, demonstrated photoconductivity (increased electrical conductivity in the presence of light) while in its solid form. Three years later, Professor William Grylls Adams and his student Richard Evans Day were the first to see an electrical current move through a material that was exposed to light after they attached electrodes to a plate of selenium.

Solar Radiation

Although it is one of his lesser-known achievements, Albert Einstein was awarded the Nobel Prize for his formulation of the photon theory of light. Developed in 1905, the theory describes how the photons contained in solar radiation can transfer their energy on a metal surface.

Solar Cells

Also referred to as photovoltaic cells, solar cells are devices which convert solar radiation into electricity. The first designs for solar cells were created by the American inventor Charles Fritts in 1883. However, it was three researchers from Bell Labs by the names of Calvin Fuller, Gerald Pearson, and David Chaplin who are credited with the creation of the world’s first solar cells in 1954. Over the following years, they managed to improve their device’s conversion efficiency from 4% to 11%. Their first successful trial using the cells in solar panels occurred in 1955, and Bell Labs later supplied solar power for one of NASA’s Vanguard satellites in 1958.

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