Solar Energy Throughout History

The idea of installing residential solar panels on a house has been around for a while, but it has been getting a lot of press lately that has created well-deserved attention. When solar energy was first introduced in a residential setting, solar powered homes were difficult to find. But now that solar panel installation has become more prominent, panels are going up all over New York and New Jersey.

Despite the relatively recent appearance of residential solar panels, the idea of harnessing the power of the sun has been around for a very long time. The events in history that have lead to solar powered homes are not only interesting, but they make up a fun time line of facts that will help consumers to better understand the progression of solar energy in the history of mankind.

700 B.C.

Archaeologists have found evidence to suggest that not only was mankind making magnifying glasses as early as 700 B.C., but the idea that those magnifying glasses could be used to concentrate the power of the sun was also discovered. From all of the evidence available, it appears that mankind has been using the sun to start fires as early as 700 B.C.

214 B.C.

Archimedes was a Greek inventor who was on hand for the Siege of Syracuse that started in 214 B.C. This is the battle that spawned the rumor that Archimedes created a “Death Ray” by using mirrors to concentrate the sunlight and use it to set opposing ships on fire. While experiments have been done that suggest that, under perfect conditions and at close range, it is possible that Archimedes’ “Death Ray” worked, most scientists dismiss it as a myth.


If you are looking for the first documented proof that solar energy was used in a controlled environment, then look no further than the 1767 invention of the solar oven. Swiss scientist Horace de Saussure devised a way to concentrate the sun rays to cook food. The idea of the solar oven never went away, and today camping enthusiasts are usually seen carrying a solar cooking device into the great outdoors.


The year 1839 is significant in the development of modern solar materials, but it was almost an afterthought. French scientist Edmund Becquerel mistakenly discovered the Photovoltaic Effect when he created voltage by exposing direct sunlight to a chemical compound. At the time. Becquerel knew he had discovered something different, but he did not fully understand or appreciate its long-term ramifications.


In 1876, the path was forged for solar panel installation projects when William Adams and Richard Day used a plate of selenium exposed to direct sunlight to create the first ever electrical charge from sunlight.


When American scientist Charles Fritts developed the first photovoltaic cells from selenium wafers, the foundation was laid for the modern residential solar panels we see today.

For centuries, mankind has been developing ways to create energy from sunlight. After thousands of years of development, it looks like everyone can now have the solar powered homes they need to keep their energy bills down and keep the lights on when the grid goes down.