The Bright History of Solar Energy

The common timeline

The following is the documented timeline of solar technology & architecture. The original resource that guides this timeline is, The Golden Thread: How Fabric Changed History (author: Kassia St Clair).

7th Century B.C. – Magnifying glasses are used to concentrate the sun’s rays, to make fire, and burn ants.

3rd Century B.C. – Greeks and Romans use burning mirrors to light torches for religious purposes.

2nd Century B.C. – Reflective surfaces are used to concentrate the sun’s rays in order to burn ships in the Battle of Syracuse.

20 A.D. – Chinese document use of burning mirrors to light torches for religious purposes.

1st to 4th Century A.D. – Roman bathhouses, using south facing windows to collect the suns heat. (most heat is gathered with South facing in northern hemisphere, and North facing in southern hemisphere)

6th Century A.D. – Sunrooms are so common that it becomes a right to have access to the sun in this way. Sunrooms are rooms with glass faces that warm in summer or winter, all from the sun’s heat.

1767 – Swiss scientist Horace de Saussure makes miniature greenhouses, glass boxes that collect the suns heat.

1816 – Robert Stirling built heat engines. Lord Kelvin used one of the working models during some of his university classes. This engine was later used in the dish/Stirling system, a solar thermal electric technology that concentrates the sun’s thermal energy in order to produce power.

1839 – French scientist Edmond Becquerel discovers the photovoltaic effect.

1873 – Willoughby Smith discovered the photoconductivity of selenium.

1883 – First solar cell is made from selenium wafers.

1891 – Baltimore inventor Clarence Kemp patented the first commercial solar water heater.

1905 – Albert Einstein published his paper on the photoelectric effect.

1954 – The first practical solar cell is invented at Bell Labs.

1958 – Hoffman Electronics achieves 9% efficient photovoltaic cells.

1958 – The Vanguard I space satellite used a small (less than one watt) array to power its radios. Later that year, Explorer III, Vanguard II, and Sputnik-3 were launched with PV-powered systems on board. Despite faltering attempts to commercialize the silicon solar cell in the 1950s and 60s, it was used successfully in powering satellites. It became the accepted energy source for space applications and remains so today.

1960 – Hoffman Electronics achieves 14% efficient photovoltaic cells

1973 – The University of Delaware builds a solar roof. (It is similar to: https://renewcosolar.com.au/tesla-roof/)

1973–2023 – Solar technology becomes cheaper and more practical.

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