Brief History – Solar Cell Technology and Energy Production

It may surprise you that as far back as Roman times the energy of the sun was being harvested.


It seems like most of the focus on technology these days is on current happenings in the solar panel industry and taking a look into what the future holds for renewable solar . This is certainly not a bad thing because of the promise that solar energy offers to the world. It definitely is exciting to see the growth in solar technology and solar energy use around the world. What many people are not familiar with is the history of solar energy, but that’s important too. If you know the history behind solar energy production and the associated technology, it makes where we are today in terms of solar cell efficiency and solar energy production even that much more impressive. 

That is why this article is being written. To give those who are not aware of the history of solar energy a little more background information on it and to provide a rough timeline of how solar technology has progressed through the years. 

How Long Has Solar Cell Technology Been Around? 

It may surprise you that as far back as Roman times the energy of the sun was being harvested. The Romans made crude devices that were used to heat their famous bath houses. 

The first discovery that some materials could absorb sunlight and actually produce an electrical charge occurred in 1839 by a man named Alexandre Edmond Becquerel. This led to the invention of the world’s first photovoltaic power generating source just a few years later by William Grylls Adams. This crude selenium based photovoltaic device was only 2% efficient. 

A Breakthrough in Solar Technology in the 50’s 

It was the 1950’s that there was a significant breakthrough in more efficient, cost effective solar panel technology. In 1954, C.S. Fuller, D.M. Chapin and G.L. Pearson, working for Bell Laboratories came up with a silicone based photovoltaic power source that was both reliable and stable.  

Just one short year later the world’s first commercial solar cell was released by Hoffman Electronics. At 2% efficiency and a cost of $25, that translated into a cost figure of over $1700 per a single watt of generated electricity. Fortunately solar energy technology and efficiency took off rapidly in the boon years that followed. 

Oil Proves to Be the Boost That Solar Energy Needed in the 70’s 

In a move that is now coming back to haunt them with the advances in solar technology rapidly cutting into fossil fuel generated energy production, the Arab oil embargo against the US in 1973 was the catalyst that was needed to more seriously pursue alternative energy sources such as solar power. This also led to the ‘Energy Tax Act of 1978’ which was the first of many rounds of tax incentives for those willing to invest in solar energy.  

Solar from 1990 – 2000 

It was in these years that the space industry helped pave the way for the increased efficiency of solar panels. Although these technologies were not nearly cost friendly enough for widespread use they led to other breakthroughs for more practical solar technologies. Most notably of which was the ability for solar panel technology to use an inverter to change the DC electrical current that solar panels produced into a more usable alternating current form (AC). These power inverters helped give birth to the private homeowner solar installation movement. 

Solar Panel Efficiency Has Taken Off In the Last 20 Years 

It has long been theorized that the highest possible solar panel efficiency due to what is known as the photovoltaic effect was around 29%. Although no mainstream commercially produced solar panel product comes close to that mark most commercial solar panels produced today are 20% to 25% efficient. 

Other significant breakthroughs in solar panel technology have come in the form of reduced weights, easier system hook ups and lower costs. People’s now overwhelming concern for the environment and wish for greener living has also greatly spurned on the movement toward more home based renewable solar energy generating systems. 

The Progress Solar Energy Technology is making Today is Truly Amazing 

When you look back over the years it is impressive how far solar photovoltaic cell technology has progressed in just a little over 40 years. Now solar generated power is being used more than ever before in every corner of the world. That means each year as new solar farms spring up and more individuals install solar power it lessens the world’s dependence on environmentally unfriendly fossil fuels. 

Renewable solar energy is definitely here to stay. The good news is it will only get better with continued increases in solar panel efficiency, lowering of solar panel costs and the advent of solar batteries that will help store the energy these solar power generating systems produce. 



Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here