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The history of solar power

8th May 2013

How much do you really know about solar power? OK, so it comes from the sun and is a clean, green way of generating electricity for your home - that much is common knowledge - but what about the history of solar power? Where did it come from? Who invented it and why?

Those are the sort of questions we will be tackling today in our one stop guide to the history of solar power technology.

Humans have been harnessing the power of the sun for more than 2,000 years, dating back to third century BC when mirrors were used to direct the sun's light in order to light torches and fires.

Many centuries later in 1839, a young French scientist named Edmond Becquerel first stumbled across the photovoltaic effect and in the process, changed the future of human electricity generation forever.

The photovoltaic effect involves light being converted into electricity by dislodging and recombining electrons - this is the theory behind the solar panels we use today.

However the very first solar power technology as we know it was not devised until the 1860s, when French mathematician August Mouchet began engineering the first solar powered engines.

Two decades later in 1883, American Charles Fritts invented the first solid state photovoltaic cell. It was extremely inefficient at the time, but it was an important landmark and paved the way for what was to come.

Years of experimentation and invention followed, with scientists all around the world working on and improving the ideas behind solar power technology.

In 1905, legendary scientist Albert Einstein published some important research into the photoelectric effect which would later win him the Nobel Prize, and shortly after, a man by the name of William J. Bailley devised the modern solar collector.

Scientists continued to devise photovoltaic cells which were more efficient than ever before, and many countries and enterprising businessmen began racing to be at the forefront of this technology.

Leaping forward a bit, in 2010 US President Barack Obama ordered that solar panels and a solar hot water heater be installed on the roof of the White House - you can read more about that here.

In recent years, countries have been repeatedly shattering the world record for largest utility-scale solar plant on earth, and last month construction officially began on a massive 579 MW development in California.

Here in Australia we recently celebrated the installation of the one millionth roof top solar power, highlighting the fact that there really is no stopping progress.

Posted by Mike Peacock

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