A History of Solar

Solar Energies Timeline – A brief overview

The very earliest mentions of solar energy generation from over 2,600 years ago!


7th Century B.C.

Magnifying glass used to concentrate sun’s rays to make fire and burn ants.

3rd Century B.C.

Greeks and Romans use mirrors to create fire to light torches

2nd Century B.C.

Archimedes is rumoured to use bronze shields to concentrate solar light to set fire to wooden ships besieging Syracuse.


A little later on – 1767 to 1891



Horace de Saussure built the world’s first solar collector used by Sir John Herschel to cook food during his South African expedition in the 1830s.


Robert Stirling applied for a patent for his economiser in Edinburgh, Scotland. His invention was a heat engine that was used by Lord Kelvin during his university classes and later in the Dish/Stirling system, a solar thermal electric technology that concentrates the sun’s thermal energy in order to produce power.


Edmond Becquerel discovers the photovoltaic effect when experiencing with an electrolytic cell made up of two mental electrodes placed in an electricity-conducting solution. He found that electricity generation increased when the setup was exposed to light.


August Mouchet proposed an idea for solar-powered steam engines. These engines eventually became the base models for modern parabolic dish collectors.


William Grylls Adams and Richard Evans Day discover that selenium produces electricity when exposed to light. They proved that a solid material could change light into electricity without heat or moving parts.


Clarence Kemp patented the first commercial solar water heater.


Since the 1900s



Albert Einstein publishes his paper on the photoelectric effect, also another better known paper, the theory of relativity.


Professor Jan Czochralski developed a way to grow single-crystal silicon greatly improving the potential efficiency of solar PV panels.


Albert Einstein wins the Nobel Prize for his theories explaining the photoelectric effect.


MIT build the first house in the world to be heated by the suns energy.


Western Electric began to sell commercial licences for silicon photovoltaic (PV) technologies.

Mid 1950s

Architect Frank Bridgers designed the world’s first solar heated office building using solar water heating.


The Vanguard I space satellite used a small array to power one of its radios. This lead the way to solar power being the accepted energy source for space applications which remains the case today.


Japan builds the world’s largest solar array to power a lighthouse, it was 242 watt.


Dr. Elliot Berman working with Exxon Corporation designs a much cheaper solar cell, helping to bring the average price down from $100 a watt to just $20 a watt. This lead to solar cells being used to power many essential systems built in the 1970s such as offshore rigs, warning lights, lighthouses and rail crossings.


The University of Delaware builds ‘solar one,’ which was one of the first residences in the world to be powered by solar PV. It also had solar thermal power built into the system. It fed surplus energy into the grid during the day and purchased power from the grid at night, much the same as today’s systems.


AES ltd was established as the first Solar Thermal designer manufacture in the UK. They have since worked on streamlining and improving the efficiency of AES Solar Thermal Collectors.


Paul MacCready builds the first solar powered aircraft, the Solar Challenger.  Is had 16,000 solar cells mounted over the wings which produced 3kW of power. It flew successfully over the English Channel from France to England.


Australian Hans Tholstrup drives the world’s first solar powered car named the Quiet Achiever. He drove it just under 2,800 miles from Sydney to Perth.


Worldwide photovoltaic production exceeds 21.3 megawatts, with sales of more than $250 million.


The University of South Wales breaks the 20% efficiency barrier for silicon solar cells under 1-sun conditions.


The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was created by the United Nations Environment Program and the World Meteorological Organization.


The National Renewable Energy Laboratory develops a solar cell, made from gallium indium phosphide and gallium arsenide, which becomes the first one to exceed 30% conversion efficiency.


The remote-controlled, solar-powered aircraft, “Pathfinder” sets an altitude record, 80,000 feet, on its 39th consecutive flight on August 6, in Monrovia, California. This altitude is higher than any prop-driven aircraft thus far.


Cumulative worldwide installed photovoltaic capacity reaches 1000 megawatts.


At the International Space Station, astronauts begin installing solar panels on what will be the largest solar power array deployed in space. Each “wing” of the array consists of 32,800 solar cells.


NASA’s solar-powered aircraft the Helios sets a new world record for non-rocket powered aircraft: 96,863 feet, more than 18 miles high.


Famous People In Solar


Archimedes – Burnt boats

Socrates – Developed Architecture to maximise the suns energy

Leonardo da Vinci – Conceived a parabolic mirror to heat water used in the dying of clothing

Thomas Edison – “We are like tenant farmers chopping down the fence around our house for fuel when we should be using nature’s inexhaustible sources of energy- sun, wind and tide. I’d put money on the sun and solar energy. What a source of power! I hope we don’t have to wait until oil and coal run out before we tackle that.”

Nikola Tesla – “If we use our fuel to get our power, we are living on our capital and exhausting it rapidly. This method is barbarous and wantonly wasteful, and will have to be stopped in the interested of coming generations. The heat of the sun’s rays represents an immense amount of energy.

Albert Einstein – Won a Nobel Prize for his work on the photovoltaic effect

Bill Gates – “It’s really kind of cool to have solar panels on your roof.”


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