The Evolution of Solar Tech Through The Years

The modern world that people live in is one that is divided by a chasm between traditional and renewable energy. Solar power in the Philippines, as well as in countries all over the world has started to consolidate its position as a powerhouse in the power industry. Majority of the energy produced in the world are processed from non-renewable energy sources; However, progress in the research of renewable energy is stronger than ever with breakthroughs making parts of solar energy more affordable and the process cleaner.

One of the greatest and arguably a very important product of the evolution of solar tech is the solar panel. Solar panels are made up of dozens of solar cells that process electricity from sunlight. This process is called the photovoltaic effect which means “the conversion of electric current from solar energy”.

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Humble Beginnings

While Solar panels seem like something of a novelty from the current age, the technology behind it is actually quite old. Back in the year 1839, French Physicist Alexandre-Edmond Becquerel discovered the photovoltaic effect. In 1888, the founder of electrical engineering Aleksandr Stoletov, a Russian Physicist created the first solar cell to experiment with the photovoltaic effect and the photoelectric effect. Stoletov’s creation of the solar cell was a result of him observing the outer photoelectric effect which is when electrons are emitted when sunlight is absorbed by the solar cell. 

Early Progress

Despite the breakthrough with regards to the field of solar energy, it wasn’t until German Theoretical Physicist Albert Einstein published his research on the photoelectric effect in 1904. In 1954, Bell Laboratories succeeded in creating the first commercial-use photovoltaic cell. However, the technology to successfully integrate renewable energy into homes was not possible due to the production costs at the time. It was also deemed inefficient to spend $250 just to produce a single watt of electricity as compared to $3 per wattage from a coal plant.

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Space Age

During the latter years of the 50s and beyond, the space race between the United States and the former USSR quickly gained traction and while the technology required to commercially produce solar energy was expensive, it was quickly deemed appropriate and cost-effective to use them on Space Shuttles and Satellites. In the year 1958, the Vanguard I was the fourth launched satellite but it was the first one to be powered by solar energy and is in orbit to this day.

A year after the launch of Vanguard I, progress was reported in the development of solar energy when Hoffman Electronics created a solar cell that was reported to at least be 10% efficient. This was a big discovery at the time and it paved the way for more practical uses. It wasn’t until the year 1967 however, when solar cells were successfully fitted onto a manned space vehicle the Soyuz I.

For many decades, regardless of the advancements in the study of solar energy, solar cells were only viable on space projects such as in 1973 when solar cells were fitted onto the Skylab, an American Space Station that remained in orbit from its launch until 1979 when it was decommissioned due to the damage taken by the solar cells during launch.

1977 marked the beginning of the popularization of usage of the solar cells at home when US President Jimmy Carter enacted laws that rewarded people and corporations that relied on solar energy.

Continued Growth

By the early 90s, President George H. W. Bush created the NREL or the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and continued research led to photovoltaic production to be able to hit 1000 megawatts at the turn of the century in 1999.

Democratic President Barack Obama’s administration as well as various American politicians such as former Californian Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has campaigned for renewable energy. More and more solar energy providers continue to emerge signifying the growing interest as well as sustainability of solar energy.

Solar energy initially started with a single solar cell until it grew wings and took to the skies as it helped advance space exploration. Today, people are lucky to be able to rely on an infinite source of renewable energy that is not only affordable, it is also clean and safe.

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