Solar Energy 101: Everything You Need To Know About Power From The Sun
For centuries, solar energy has been used to sustain human life and advance renewable energy technologies. In fact, the first evidence of experimentation with the sun’s rays dates back to the 7th century B.C. when people used magnifying glasses to concentrate the sun’s rays and make fire.
Through the ages, humans have used the power of the sun for everything from war tactics, to heating mechanisms, to solar-powered vehicles and homes. The following outline provides a brief history of times when the sun played a monumental role in the way people lived.
2nd Century B.C.
In 212 BC, the Greek scientists Archimedes was said to reflect sun rays off bronze shields to set fire to enemy ships from the Roman Empire. The Greek navy recreated this feat in 1973, successfully setting fire to a wooden boat from 50 meters away.
The Anasazi people (ancestors of the Pueblo tribe) built dwellings in south-facing cliffs in order to capitalize on the heat from the winter sun.
Horace de Saussure, a Swiss scientist, built the world’s first solar collector. These “hot boxes” were later used by Sir John Herschel to cook food during expeditions in the 1830’s.
A monumental turning point in the history of solar energy, 1860 is the earliest known record of using solar radiation for mechanical power. Mathematics instructor Auguste Mouchout was disconcerted with France’s dependence on coal and created the first patent for a one-half horsepower motor that ran strictly on solar power.
Englishman William Adams worked off of Mouchout’s design to create a solar-powered 2.5-horsepower steam engine that operated during daylight hours.
Aubrey Eneas, a Bostonian, established the first solar power company, The Solar Motor Co. He formed this company with a goal to make truncated-cone reflectors similar to Mouchcout’s, but 50 percent larger and more powerful. He demonstrated his invention at a popular tourist attraction - an ostrich farm - in Pasadena, Calif., where his device boiled 100 gallons of water and transferred steam through a pipe to an engine that pumped 1,400 gallons of water per minute from a well and into the dry California dirt.
Albert Einstein published his findings and studies on the photoelectric effect - or the emissions of electrons from a surface by the action of light. In 1916, Robert Millikan provided experimental proof of this effect.
Photovoltaic technology was introduced in the United States after Daryl Chapin, Calvin Fuller, and Gerald Pearson developed the first solar cell capable of converting the sun’s energy into power that could run everyday electrical equipment.
The University of Delaware founds the Institute of Energy Conversion, the world’s first laboratory created strictly for photovoltaic research and development.
The U.S. Department of Energy introduces the Solar Energy Research Institute, a federally-funded facility dedicated to solar energy and harnessing power from the sun. This was also the year that total photovoltaic manufacturing production exceeded 500 kilowatts.
Paul MacCready builds the Solar Challenger, the world’s first solar-powered aircraft, and flies it from France to England via the English Channel.
Hans Tholstrup drives the Quite Achiever, the first solar-powered car, nearly 2,800 miles between Sydney and Perth in just 20 days. (That’s 10 days faster than it took the world’s first gasoline-powered car to travel the same distance.)
Construction was completed on 4 Times Square, New York’s tallest skyscraper in the 1990s. Engineers incorporated more energy-efficient techniques than any other commercial skyscraper, including building-integrated photovoltaic panels that produce some of the building’s power.
Astronauts began installing solar panels on the International Space Station. Each wing of the station holds 32,800 solar cells."
Home Depot started selling solar power systems to residents. Though they initially launched this offer in just three stores, popularity was so high that they included sales to 61 stores nationwide the following year.
Today solar power is being used anywhere and everywhere you look. From warming dwellings to powering high-tech transportation, the sun has played - and will continue to play - a monumental role in the history of human life and sustainable energy.
Kara Masterson is a freelance writer from West Jordan, Utah. She graduated from the University of Utah and enjoys writing and spending time with her dog, Ma
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