Alternative sources of energy have been around for centuries, and ways of harnessing solar energy has changed dramatically over the years.
In today’s energy market, solar has become the one alternative source with increasingly important applications for both residential and commercial consumers.
Solar has also become more accessible than ever, and in almost 180 years of development, it finally holds the promise of a renewable energy source for a sustainable future.
But where did it all start?
The harnessing of solar power through the use of photovoltaic cells has been in existence in various forms throughout the last two centuries, 1870s to the mid-1900’s.
Early systems varied widely in their effectiveness. They were largely considered to be conceptual experiments rather than something which actually produced usable results.
As time went on, new materials and chemical compositions were discovered which greatly improved the efficiency of photovoltaic technology.
By the 1950s, the U.S. Government and several private corporations had noticed the potential of solar power and began to develop more efficient and cost-effective solar cells.
Despite these improvements, it would still be several more decades before the general public began to adopt residential solar technology.
Here follow’s a short timeline of the key events which brought solar into our home’s today:
In the 1970’s the Exxon Corporation developed a significantly less costly solar cell which reduced the price from $100 to $20 per watt. This was achieved by using a poorer grade of silicon and packaging the cells with cheaper materials.
Though still too expensive for residential use, solar power was finally recognized as a viable commercial alternative for the first time.
During the same era solar power’s potential finally reached the attention of the mainstream public due of two major oil crises that occurred.
In 1973, members of the Organization of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries (OAPEC) declared an oil embargo. In 1979 a second crisis occurred in the U.S. due to decreased oil output in the wake of the Iranian Revolution.
In addition to dramatically raised energy prices, a growing concern for the environmental impact caused by fossil fuels began to take hold of the public.
Slowly but surely, the “flower child generation” began to embrace ecological awareness. This sparked a green movement towards renewable energy.
In 1982, an Australian-made, British Petroleum (BP) sponsored car, performed the first manned transcontinental journey using solar power exclusively. The success of the Quiet Achiever’s journey gained worldwide recognition, and it was the precursor to the Bridgestone World Solar Challenge, the world’s premier solar-powered car race.
In the same year, Kyocera Corp became the first manufacturer in the world to mass-produce polysilicon solar cells by using the casting method.
This method is still the standard for today’s industry.
The 21st century sees the depletion of the planet’s fossil fuel reserves. This carries the added burden of increased demand which leads to the never ending rise in electricity costs.
The impact of modern development on the environment is no longer a secret, and it is this awareness which has fueled research to focus on new materials and innovative designs.
In time, modern solar systems will undoubtedly offer future generations a permanent energy solution.