The History of Solar Power: From Exclusive Start to Commercial Breakthrough

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Solar cells have been around since the 19th century but it is only in the past ten years that home solar power generation has become commercially feasible for almost everyone.

History of Solar Power

It was in 1839 that French physicist AE Bequerel first observed how to turn light into electric current, coining the “photovoltaic (PV) effect.”

Then in 1888, Russian Aleksandr Stoletov created the first solar cell that yielded reliable electricity through the PV effect, only to be swarmed by several scientists who would go on to hold patents for solar cells just ten years later. It took another 50 years for progress to move forward and by 1950 the modern solar cells were introduced. They were only available for specialist use on satellites.

Renewable energies then gained some popularity in the early 70’s, as the oil crisis hit and oil-producing nations joined together to reduce supply and push up prices. This sparked an interest in renewable energies and the market started to emerge. By 1979, U.S. president Jimmy Carter made a statement by putting solar panels on the White House only for Ronald Regan to famously take them down.

Solar PV development then slowed down in the 1980’s along with other renewable energy sources due to falling oil prices. Despite the slowed development, by 1999 the total worldwide PV installations accounted for 1,000MW, which produced enough energy to power 750,000 homes. Since then the emphasis has been on researching how to build cheap PV panels for the mass market in an attempt to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels for our energy supply. Progress has been enormous and influential.

history of solar

Politicians have played a vital role in the growth of solar power by offering incentives. Notable efforts include Arnold Schwarzenegger’s 2006 “Million solar roofs initiative” when he was the California governor. Germany took the approach of a feed-in tariff to boost the solar industry and in May 2012 created a new world record, with PV delivering a third of the country’s peak electrical needs. China plays an increasingly large role in the solar power arena, being the home of two of the world’s three leading PV companies. China’s growth is so prevalent that some believe that 2016 could see 35,000MW capacity installed domestically.

All the while, enormous PV farms are emerging worldwide, with immense projects such as the Gujurat Solar Park in India, with a capacity of 689MW, whilst other reportable projects such as the Arizona Agua Caliente boasting a capacity of 200MW.

The future vision of renewable energy sources for everyone is becoming an increasingly realistic and enlightening vision which will allow us to embrace the most limitless energy source of them all. The cost of PV has been dropping over the past decade and is showing no signs of weakening. The history of solar power is long but it is just getting started.

Guest article. Tom Clark writes on solar power and the future of renewable energy sources. Oskomera Solar is a leading solar panel supplier and provides solar panel kits in the UK. Image credit to Ell Brown

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