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Who Invented Solar Panels?

The invention of solar panels is attributed to a brilliant array of scientists, but it was Russell Ohl who patented the first silicon solar cell in 1941. This pivotal innovation sparked a renewable energy revolution. Curious about how this transformed into the solar technology we use today? Join us as we delve into the luminous history of solar power.
Editorial Team
Editorial Team

How did someone make the decision to turn the sun’s rays into power to generate electricity? While solar panel technology has become incredibly popular and seems like a brand-new type of technology, it actually is not. In fact, solar power and solar panels have been understood and harnessed in different ways for decades. 

At SmartSolar, our goal is to help you to get the solar power system that you need in place – and that often means ensuring that you understand how solar energy can work for you. If you want to install solar panels, contact us for more insight into how they can work for your specific needs.

When Was Solar Energy Discovered?

Recognizing that solar energy was a powerful tool took time – it was in the 1800s that people learned that they could harness the sun’s rays and turn them into energy. One of the first to do this was Alexandre-Edmond Becquerel in 1839, who was just 19 years old when he developed the first photovoltaic cells. What he learned about light and electricity would lay the foundation for the creation of solar power for years to come.

In the years to follow, a number of things would occur:

  • In 1861, Auguste Mouchout patented the first solar-powered motor.
  • In 1873, Willoughby Smith discovered what we call today the photovoltaic effect in selenium.
  • In 1876, W. G. Adams learned that there are changes in electrical resistance in selenium as it relates to light, heat, and chemical action.

Additional developments during this period included the development of a solar engine, the development of the first solar cell using selenium that was coated with gold, and the development of a sun motor that was able to use solar radiation to create enough power to run a steam boiler. Charles Fitts developed the first solar panel system for rooftops in 1884 in New York City.

Solar energy took longer to develop in terms of overall functionality and putting it to work for people. However, in the early 20th century, significant changes occurred that would allow for a better understanding of photovoltaic energy. Albert Einstein published a paper on it in 1905, and in 1916 Jan Czocharalski invested a method for creating single crystals of metal that would lead to the development of semiconductor wafers – which are a critical component of today’s solar power systems and are present in solar cells and many of the electronics we use today.

In the middle of the century, solar panel development was moving faster. By 1941, Bell Laboratories had filed a patent for the first monocrystalline silicon solar cell – and it is much like what is used today with further advancements. The company would then create the first efficient silicon solar cell in 1954, which produced a weak current, but it was able to reach 4% efficiency. A year later, the first solar-powered telephone call was made.

Bell Laboratories was not the only organization working to develop solar panels. General Electric was able to develop a solar-powered radio in 1956.

Modern Solar Panels

Solar panels continued to grow in terms of the quality of technology used. Without a doubt, it took a long time to get to the point where we are now. In 1974, the U.S. Energy Research and Development Administration put in place a plan to commercialize solar energy, and the Solar Energy Industries Association, a year later, was formed to help support the growth of the solar industry. Then, in 1977, the Solar Energy Research Institution was put in place by Congress, which was able to help support the development and research in the field.

In the coming years, a number of new solar panel innovations occurred. In 1979, the first solar panels were installed on the roof of the White House. The first large-scale solar farm was put in place in 1982. Over the coming years, silicon cells would improve in overall efficiency, reaching 20% efficiency in 1985. Solar panel technology and solar technology, in general, have improved significantly since then as well.

The Importance of Solar Power

When it comes to who invented solar panels, just naming one person does not seem possible. Solar panels and solar cells themselves have become a critical component of our energy production in the U.S. It is one of the best forms of renewable energy, and while solar energy is still considered in its infancy in terms of how it is used, solar technology has come a long way in making solar energy available to more people around the world.

From the offshore floating solar farm to the ability of small, rural areas to get the electricity they need by converting solar energy, solar PV has changed the world overall. The first solar-powered radio and those initial solar-powered devices may not have seemed to take off, but what many people would not realize with those first solar cells is just how valuable this type of electricity generation would be in powering the world while protecting the environment.

Solar systems are more readily available today than they have been in the past. With a solar panel roof, you could see a significant amount of support in lowering your energy bills. 

Contact SmartSolar today to learn more about how solar panels can be added to your home.

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