History of solar
We have used the sun to our advantage for thousands of years, from heating food or water and making fire, to making electricity and reflecting the Sun's rays for light. Solar Energy and its uses are certainly not new.
The very first traceable use of the sun was back in 7th century BC, when man used crystals to magnify the Sun's rays for starting fires. Around 300 BC, the Egyptians used mirrors to reflect the light from the Sun into their tombs to illuminate the way. The reflecting of the Sun's rays with mirrors was also used to light torches. They also used the sun to dry mummified bodies after they had died, and built houses which trapped the Sun's heat, allowing for lower day time and higher night time temperatures. It is believed that the Egyptians also used a form of passive solar power to heat water.
Although there is no solid proof, it is believed that the Greeks, led by Archimedes, used large bronze shields to set Roman ships alight in the battle at Syracuse in 212 BC.
The Chinese recorded using mirrors once again in 20 AD to light torches for religious purposes. The Romans began to build "bath houses" with south facing windows between 100 and 400 AD to let the Sun's warmth in. Sunrooms begin being built on houses and public buildings, and become so popular that "sun rights" are established by the Justinian Code around 600 AD to ensure that all buildings have access to the sun.
Between 1000 AD and 1400 AD, Native Americans were known to build houses on cliffs, positioned and designed to allow for trapping of heat during the day and release at night.
The very first recorded Solar Collector was made in 1767 by Swiss inventor Horace de Soussare. He made a rectangular box, which he insulated and covered with glass. He placed two smaller boxes inside and put it out in the Sun. The bottom box heated to over 100 degrees C. This is now known as a hotbox and was used throughout the 18th and 19th centuries to test how much of the Sun's heat could be trapped.
The first person to observe the Photovoltaic Effect, in 1839, was French physicist Edmond Becquerei, although he did not fully understand the principle. In 1861, AugusteMouchet manufactured the first solar powered motor, which ran on steam. The first solar PV cells were made in the 1880's and had an efficiency of around 2%. In 1891, the first commercially viable Solar Geyser was patented. It comprised of a copper tank painted black, and was set at an angle to obtain the optimal heat.
Aubrey Eneas opened the first solar company in Boston, US, in 1900 and called it The Solar Motor Co. William J. Bailley invented a solar collector in 1908, which comprised of copper coils feeding an insulated box. This is very similar to the ones used today.
Though John Ericsson invented the parabolic trough in the 1870's, the first traceable use of them was in 1912, when Frank Schuman set up a farm of troughs for a small community in Meadi, Egypt. They were used to create steam which powered a steam generator, which in turn powered a water pump, providing the community with 6000 gallons of water per minute. Following his success with the invention, Schuman planned to build 20 250 square miles of parabolic troughs, enough to provide 270 million horse-power; enough to power the whole planet at that time. He had much support, and was granted 200 000 Deutschmarks to support his venture. World War 1 broke out, though, and changed everything. Schuman died before the war ended, and Germany lost its African colonies, leaving no chance of going through with the project. The basic design of parabolic troughs has not changed since its invention, and it remains one of the most efficient forms of solar energy today.
A process used to make very pure crystalline silicon, known as the Czochralski meter, was developed in the early 1950's. In 1954, Bell Telephone Laboratories invented a 4% efficient photovoltaic solar panel, later improving it to 11% efficient. A small US satellite was powered by a cell producing less than one watt in 1958. In 1970, Elliot Burman developed solar cells which were significantly less costly, reducing the price from $100 to $20 per watt, and then in 1973/4 the oil embargo allowed the solar industry to grow, with the US Department of Energy funding the Federal Photovoltaic Utilization Program, allowing for the testing and installation of over 3000 PV systems.
In 1976, David Carlson and Christopher Wronski manufactured the first amorphous solar panel. Approximately 1.2 billion homes were using Solar Geysers by the 1990's; it was becoming more and more popular. In 2005, thin film solar modules were invented by Professor Vivian Alberts of South Africa. Today the solar industry is flourishing, and is rapidly becoming a part of everyday life. With the effects of global warming becoming more noticeable and the depleting oil wells and coal mines, we are becoming more and more dependent on renewable energy. It will certainly play a huge role in the future as people look to become more self sustainable.