Solar technology has made significant advances in the 20th and 21st Century, particularly in the last couple of decades. We’ve gone from a technology that existed only in small scale to one that is now required on all new houses in California. Solar energy is getting to the point where it can supply a significant portion of the world’s energy, up to 16% by 2050, according to a new study.
There are many great moments in the history of solar power and solar energy technology, with many brilliant scientists making advances. Here are four of the most important events in the history of solar energy technology.
The First Solar Cell
For any list of the greatest moments, it’s important to start at the beginning. None of this would have been possible without the research of French scientist Edmond Becquerel in the 1830s. He is credited with first observing the photoelectric effect. He determined that light could cause or increase electricity generation between two metal electrodes when placed in a conductive solution. This breakthrough led other scientists to develop technologies with the element selenium.
Silicon Solar Cells are Created Commercially
Between 1953-1956, solar cells began to be sold commercially. While there were many important developments between Becquerel’s breakthrough and commercial sales, this event jump-started research and development. During this time, scientists determined that silicon was more effective than selenium and they created the first practical solar cell. It was roughly 6% efficient. However, this discovery made it possible to power electrical equipment which companies began to do.
Solar Technology is Used in Space
In 1958, just a few years after the silicon solar cell began to be sold, solar technology made its debut in outer space. The government used solar energy technology to power its Vanguard 1 satellite. Having government approval and subsequent research paved the way for future developments and breakthroughs. This event also served as a practical example of how solar technology could be used.
Costs Drop for Solar Technology
In the 1970s, investment in research began to drive the cost of solar technology down. With the gas crisis during this time, companies looked for an alternative way to generate energy and put into funding. Because of this, the cost dropped from roughly $100 per watt to $20-$40 per watt, a significant decrease. This drop allowed more uses of the technology as well as more developments from that increase in research in funding and usage.
Today, we’ve made even more advances. Prices per watt are more like $0.50 per watt, far less than 40 or 50 years ago. We’ve come a long way in less than 200 years and there seems to be no sign of stopping. The demand for renewable sources of energy is only increasing and we’ll see the production and technology continue to improve to meet those demands.