Who Invented Modern Solar Power?

We’ve sometimes heard people ask “Who invented solar power?” The answer is simple: the Sun invented solar power. As long as our solar system has existed, the star at the center of it, a massive engine of hydrogen and helium, has radiated energy to the planets.

However, if we narrow the question down to “Who invented modern solar power?”, the answer grows trickier. No single individual who can take all the credit for the solar cells we use today to capture the energy of the Sun and turn it into electricity.

Nonetheless, there are some key figures in the history of solar cells we can highlight. To receive the benefit of their amazing innovations in your home, call HB Energy Solutions for clean, renewable solar power in Southern Vermont.

A short history of solar energy as a source of electrical power

In 1839, French physicist A. E. Becquerel observed the photovalic effect: voltage or electric current created in material that is exposed to light. The next step came with the chemical element selenium; in 1877 W. G. Adams and R. E. Day published a paper in Britain on the photovalic effect in solid selenium. Eleven years later, Anglo-American chemist Edward Watson patented the “solar cell,” and Russian physicist Aleksandr Stoletov created the first solar cell based on an outside photoelectric effect. More patents followed in the U.S.

In 1904, German physicist Wilhelm Hallwachs used copper to make a semi-conductor solar cell, and it was the “Hallwachs-Effekt” that later became known as the photoelectric effect. The next year, the most famous name in the timeline of solar cells appeared: Albert Einstein published a paper to explain the Hallwach-Effekt as part of quantum physics. The photoelectric effect was at last proved in 1916 by Robert Milikan.

During the 1920s, solar power started to enter homes for the first time, although on a limited basis, when solar water heaters using flat-plate collectors were used in Florida and Southern California. In the 1950s, Bell Labs began to produce solar cells for space exploration using the growth of single-crystal silicon developed over the previous four decades, and they announced in 1954 the “first modern silicon solar cell.” The media started to report on solar power as a major mover in the future of energy.

In the 1960s, Hoffman Electronics increased solar cell efficiency, while spacecraft made use of solar energy for almost all their operation. In 1974, J. Baldwin developed a building in New Mexico that was exclusively heated and powered through solar and wind power. During the 1970s energy crisis, research into solar power as a renewable alternative to fossil fuels increased.

The rise in solar cell research has—so far—reached its peak in 2008 when the U.S. Department of Energy’s Renewable Energy Laboratory created the most efficient solar cell yet, with 40.8% efficiency.

No single person can take the credit for modern solar power’s creation, and at a certain point it became too broad field. But one thing is certain: your home can benefit from the free power of the Sun through photovalic cells. Call HB Energy Solutions and talk to our experts in solar power in Southern Vermont today.

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