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Solar Energy History

The History of Solar Energy

A History over two thousand years old, solar energy has been a part of human life for a long time. Man has used solar power in its passive form to dry food and clothing and to warm homes for most of our history. The sun is the most potent and plentiful form of physical energy in our immediate existence. Of all the forces in the Universe the star is by far the most captivating and powerful. Our own star the “Sun” may be small by Universal standards but it is a giant star by our standards. So large that it accounts for over 99% of our solar systems mass and it’s power can be felt far past our own Earth orbit.

In just 40 minutes the amount of solar energy the sun emits that strikes the earth has the potential to power every electric outlet on the planet… for a year! Understanding the facts about our sun is a great way to understand solar energy. And understanding the history of solar energy development is a good place to begin. I hope you find the following informative and entertaining!

Humans learned how to harness solar energy in more sophisticated ways around 700 BC. Here’s the Solar Energy History timeline.

7th Century B.C.

Around 700 B.C. it was learned that a beam of sunshine targeted through a piece of glass could create enough heat energy to start a fire if the ray were focused onto something flammable.

3rd Century B.C.

By third century B.C., the Greeks and Romans were reflecting the sun’s rays from mirrors to ignite ceremony torches.

2nd Century B.C.

In the 2nd century BC, Archimedes, using copper shields, reflected a beam of sun onto an enemy wooden warship in the harbor and set it ablaze. Whether the story is true or false it has since been proved that it can indeed be done with the materials of that era.

For the next 1000 years man was contented to employ the power of the sun for the intentions of starting fires, passively heating abodes and drying out food and hides.

Over these early years in Solar Energy History, cultures learned to orient their dwellings and communities to face the sun (south) and exact fullest advantage of it’s heating energy. The low hanging sun would warm up the adobe brick or stone face of the building in winter and radiate it’s heat into the domicile well into the evening.

1st to 4th Century A.D.

1st to 4th Century Romans used passive solar to heat bathhouses. Glass windows facing the south allowed the sun’s rays to penetrate and warm the bathhouse, and then prevented it from escaping.

6th Century A.D.

Passive solar heating was becoming better understood and for the next several hundred years sun-rooms appeared on the south side of many Roman homes. The heat collected in the glass sun-room was allowed in to warm the home when the doors between the sun-room and home were opened.

1050 to 1300 A.D.

Around 1050 AD to 1300 is the period of the Anasazi cliff dwellings. Built in South facing cliffs with natural stone overhangs these communities were warmed in winter by the low hanging sun but the stone overhang provided much needed shade on hot summer days.

1700′s

1767 saw the first major solar discovery since the beginnings of solar energy harnessing.

Swiss scientist Horace de Saussure, in the mid 1700′s, fashioned the world’s first solar cooker.

Using a wooden box with a black cork bottom and placing three separate sheets of glass over it and finally insulating it, he was able to maintain an internal temperature of 230 degrees Fahrenheit. Hot enough to boil water and cook a meal!

Solar cookers of today closely resemble Saussure’s invention.

1800′s

By the 1800′s, discoveries were being made much faster. By the latter part of the century as little as three years would pass between discoveries.

Edmond Becquerel a French Scientist discovered the photovoltaic effect in 1839. He was the first to discover that light intensified the amount of electricity generated between two electrodes. His findings were considered interesting, but were not pursued.

From 1860′s to 1880′s

the first solar powered engines were produced and put to use.
Auguste Mouchout was the first man to patent a design for a motor running on solar energy. Receiving funds from the French monarch, he designed a device that turned solar energy into mechanical steam power and soon operated the first steam engine. He later connected the steam engine to a refrigeration device, illustrating that the sun’s rays can be utilized to make ice! He was awarded a medal for this.

His groundbreaking research was cut short though. The French renegotiated a cheaper deal with England for the supply of coal and improved their transportation system for the delivery thereof. Mouchout’s work towards finding an alternative was no longer considered a priority and he no longer received any funding from the monarch.

1873

Willoughby Smith experimented with the use of selenium solar cells after discovering it’s sensitivity to light while testing material for underwater telegraph cables.

1876

William Adams wrote the first book about Solar Energy called: A Substitute for Fuel in Tropical Countries. He and his student Richard Day experimented with the use of mirrors and were able to power a 2.5 horsepower steam engine. His design, know as the Power Tower concept, is still in use today.

1883

An American inventor Charles Fritz turned the sun’s rays into electricity. His selenium solar cell had a conversion rate of only 1-2%. But was another huge milestone in solar energy history!

1885

Charles Tellier, a Frenchman who is known as the father of refrigeration, experimented with a non-concentrating/ non-reflecting solar motor. He installed the first solar energy system for heating household water on top of his own roof. However, his desire to pursue his refrigeration interests led to him to abandon all solar energy experiments.

1868

John Ericsson, an American immigrant from Sweden wrote these powerful words: “A couple of thousand years dropped in the ocean of time will completely exhaust the coal fields of Europe, unless, in the meantime, the heat of the sun be employed.” He dismissed Mouchout’s work and also developed a solar powered steam engine, very similar in design to Mouchout’s.

1891

History saw the first commercial solar water heater patented by Clarence Kemp an inventor from Baltimore.

1892

Aubrey Eneas formed the first Solar Energy Company – The Solar Motor Co. They sold the first Solar Energy system to Dr. A.J. Chandler of Mesa, Ariz for $2,160. It was destroyed less than a week later by a windstorm. They sold a second one to John May, but that one too, was destroyed by a hailstorm shortly afterwards. This led to the company’s downfall.

1904

Henry Willsie recognized the need to store generated power and built 2 huge plants in California. He was the first to successfully use power at night after generating it during the day. Even so, he was not able to make a sale and his company too folded.

1906 – 1914

Frank Shuman’s company, Sun Power Co, built the largest and most cost-effective solar energy system covering 10,000 square feet plus. Although it produced a lot of steam it did not produce enough pressure. Together with E.P. Haines he then formed Sun Power Co. Ltd. They built an irrigation plant just outside of Cairo, but unfortunately it was destroyed during the Great War.

1954

Calvin Fuller, Gerald Pearson and Daryl Chaplin of Bell Laboratories accidentally discovered the use of silicon as a semi-conductor, which led to the construction of a solar panel with an efficiency rate of 6%.

1956

The first commercial solar cell was made available to the public at a very expensive $300 per watt.

1950s – 1960s

Space programs employed solar technologies. In 1958 the Vanguard I was launched. The first satellite to use solar energy.

1970

The Energy Crisis ! (OPEC oil embargo). A bit of solar energy history we are all familiar with. Suddenly it became important to find an alternative form of energy as we realized just how reliant we really are on non-renewable, finite resources like coal, oil and gas for our existence.

Solar energy history was made as the price of solar cells dropped dramatically to about $20 per watt.

1980 – 1991

A Los Angeles based company called Luz Co. produced 95% of the world’s solar-based electricity. They were forced to shut their doors after investors withdrew from the project as the price of non-renewable fossil fuels declined and the future of state and federal incentives was not likely.

The chairman of the board said it best: “The failure of the world’s largest solar electric company was not due to technological or business judgment failures but rather to failures of government regulatory bodies to recognize the economic and environmental benefits of solar thermal generating plants.”

Today

There is a renewed focus as more and more people see the advantages of solar energy and as it becomes more efficient and more affordable.

Governments across the world offer financial assistance and incentives.

Solar electric systems are now used to power many homes, businesses, getaways, and even villages in Africa.

We see solar cells powering anything from household appliances to cars.

Solar power as a movement is gaining popularity among the people as awareness of it’s great benefit to us is being spread.

Solar Power Cost

rooftop

How Much Your Residential Solar Power Will Cost

The cost of solar power for your home will depend on a number of different things. Where you live, how much power your household uses, whether you buy the panels new or used, how much sun your property receives, incentive programs available to you… etc, will all have an impact on the cost of solar power at any given location.

So just how much will it cost? Well a better question we should be asking ourselves is… What will it cost us if we do not invest in Solar Power? With the effects of Global Warming, pollution from fuels, and waste generated from power plants, we are effectively killing our most precious resource. If we do not begin to change the way we generate and use energy, we will no longer have a habitable earth to live on. We will be handing down a dead planet unable to sustain life to our children, where there will be no clean water to drink, no fresh air to breathe, or nutritious food to eat. It is time to join a movement that is for the prosperity of us all. A movement that needs your help, and all you need to do for it is save money while saving the earth.

The cost for residential solar energy generation varies greatly depending on several factors. Lets take a look at a few of them.

1. How much electricity do you need?

This should is the first question you need to ask yourself. Do you want to go 100% solar, or maybe you will want an integrated system that ties into the electrical grid to replace some of your electricity needs. The first step is to figure out how much electricity you use. Looking at your utility bill can do this. KWh or kilowatt-hour represents the usage of electricity. 1 Kilowatt-hour is equal to 1000 watts of electricity used in one hour. Lets use this example bill to show you how it is calculated.

This bill’s total kWh for the month is 460. So lets divide that by 30 to get a daily representation that will equate to 15.3 kWh a day of electrical usage. Now to get the wattage we need per day from our Solar Panels we will multiply our daily kWh by 1000 which gives us 15300 watts of usage a day.

460 kWh x .3 = 15.3 kWh x 1000 watts = 15,000 watts

Now that we have the total watts of electricity we need to generate a day we can work on the next factor.

 

2. How much sunshine do you get at your location?

This is actually easier then it sounds NASA has created the NASA Surface Meteorology and Solar Energy site which will be able to give you all the information you need for this next step.
For the solar panel estimator select the Insolation Average, Min and Max, and the Radiation on Equator-pointed Tilted Surface parameters. Note the yearly average figures you find for your location. Insolation means the number of hours in a day that a solar panel will produce its rated voltage.

3. You will also need to know what size, or wattage of panels you wish to use.

Keep in mind when picking out panels that you’ll want to only use the same type and size. It is fact that panels with different electrical characteristics do not work together very well. There are many types and sizes what you want is really up to you. So just for this example we’ll go with a 175-watt solar panel. Note that a higher wattage does not mean the solar panel is of better quality.

4. Now you will have to adjust for inefficiencies in your system.
What I mean by this is that when we talk about energy coming through a system, we mean that energy courses through different devices in a chain IE: charge controller, inverter, batteries. Every step of the way loses us some energy, so we want to only put things in the chain that are absolutely necessary and are in good working order. There will always be some loss to the output level. It’s just the way it works. The only thing we can really do about it is to make sure our system is as efficient as possible. If you are thinking about buying a manufactured system this information should be available from them, otherwise figure between 50% – 70% efficiency. I’ll average for example and use an efficiency of 60%.

You may have noticed when you looked at the NASA site that insolation values can go up drastically for tilted panels, or positioning panels to face towards the sun. Because of this your annual average of Insolation can almost triple. So lets use a tilt of 45 degrees in our example.

So if we went for horizontal positioned panels we would need 39 panels at 175 watts each.

If we went with the 45-degree angle we would need 34 panels at 175 watts each.

Now you can shop around for better prices but the 175-watt panels we are using for this example are $580.00 each.

Horizontal: 39 x 580 = $22,620 USD.

45 Degree angle: 34 x 580 = $19,720 USD.

I realize this seems like a large up front investment however you are adding value to your house, also making it up with non existent energy bills, selling energy back to the utility company’s, and last but not least getting tax breaks and other incentives from the government. While buying manufactured panels and having them installed may be the easiest way to get solar energy flowing through your home, it is also by far the most expensive Solar power Cost.

Solar Power Information Solar Panel Cost

The solar revolution has been happening for the last 20 years and is now really moving fast. It has taken a long time for the technology to become affordable enough for everyday people to utilize. The best part is the technology is increasing at a rapid speed. Solar panels or photovoltaic cells as they are sometimes called (photo = light, voltaic = electricity) are what’s used to generate solar power from our Sun.

Unfortunately not much energy is created by one single solar cell, which means that lots of them are needed, drastically raising solar power cost. The biggest problem with solar power is in the price you must pay to buy systems and have them installed.

There are so many reasons to install solar power into your home that it makes no sense not to anymore. More and more benefits are being discovered everyday. The solar power cost of a residential home is dramatically reduced due to the fact that after the initial investment of installing solar panels, the energy created is 100% free. Older methods of energy creation that pollute the atmosphere like coal and nuclear technology are rising in price and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. You can even sell the solar energy to the utility company’s making you extra income. And with the benefit of the positive effects on the earth that comes with not needing to use negative forms of generating energy, you can feel good about what you’re doing. Solar panels are 100% environmentally friendly, no pollution at all!

Fortunately we are able to utilize solar power in easier and cheaper ways due to advancements in technology and techniques used to create more energy efficient, cheaper, and better looking solar panels. Luckily there are extremely easy ways to lower Solar Power Cost, and also have some fun by making your own solar panels. Doing it yourself can drastically lower the amount of money you’ll spend on your initial investment. I highly recommend trying it out, but be careful when purchasing a kit, they are not all perfect for any situation. You need to make sure you get what is right for you. If you would like more detailed information please visit Solar Power Cost to check out a kit I have used myself and know first hand that it works perfect in any situation.

The Bottom Line

You can reasonably expect to power your home completely with solar power, for $25,000 US dollars including the cost of new batteries. Once installed the system will save you ALL of your power expense for 35 to 40 years.

It may take a while but after a period of 10 to 15 years, the system will have paid for itself (in energy savings) and then it begins to put money back into your pocket for as long as 20 more years. And this is without any subsidies or tax incentives, or taking into account any parts you built or installed yourself. If you do most of the work yourself and take advantage of all the incentives and breaks you are looking at an investment below $10,000 USD.

So in closing thank you for visiting our Solar Power Cost page. New content and more Solar Energy Facts will be published regularly so please visit often, tell your friends, and bookmark us. Also if you would like to join the RSS feed and receive automatic updates whenever a new post is added click on the RSS icon at the bottom left corner of the page.