We can trace all energy used on our planet back to the source…the nearest star, our sun. The history of solar energy is as old as humankind. In the last two centuries, we started using Sun’s energy directly to make electricity.
As you can see from the fascinating graphic below Ancient Civilizations have been finding ways to harvest the Suns power for Centuries. What is likely considered to be the modern era of Solar energy technology began in 1839, when Alexandre Edmond Becquerel discovered that certain materials produced small amounts of electric current when exposed to light.
William Grylls Adams, who, with his student, Richard Evans Day, discovered in 1876 that a solid material – selenium – produced electricity when exposed to light. Selenium photovoltaic cells were converting light to electricity at 1 to 2 percent efficiency.
Photovoltaic, or PV for short, is the word that describes converting sunlight into electricity: photo, meaning pertaining to light, and voltaic meaning producing voltage. It took, more than 100 years, however, for the concept of electricity from sunlight to become more than an just an experiment.
In 1954, D.M. Chapin, C.S. Fuller and G.L. Pearson, of Bell Laboratory, patented a way of making electricity directly from sunlight using silicon-based solar cells.
The next year, the Hoffman Electronics-Semiconductor Division announced the first commercial photovoltaic product that was 2 percent efficient, priced at $25 per cell, at 14 milliwatts each, or $1,785 per watt (in 1955 dollars).
By the mid-1960s, efficiency levels were nearing 10 percent. As an outgrowth of the space exploration in the 1960s-70s, PV development increased dramatically. But world wide hostilities and the threat of war turned the world more and more away from oil and toward renewable energy.
Check out this fascinating graphic as provided by the fine folks at Electrek