Solar power is a story that stretches back over centuries. This is often surprising to people who think this is purely a phenomenon that has arisen over the last 50 years or so. In fact generating power from the sun’s rays had come to the attention of scientists many years before.
Mouchot in France created a solar engine in 1860. It was a modest start and worked with solar energy being reflected on to an iron vessel containing water. The effect was multiplied by having a number of reflectors around the vessel.
When the water heated it produced steam and the steam pressure then operated a rudimentary steam turbine. This invention was simply the culmination of the realization by many people that the sun could be a source of energy to illuminate their homes and that this energy could also be put to other uses as well.
Mouchout’s solar engine was then notably enhanced by inventors such Charles Tellier, John Ericsson, Henry E. Willsie Eneas and Shuman. William Adams one of the inventors who succeeded Mouchot made a version of the solar engine with 72 mirrors or reflectors. This enhancement alone boosted the power output by a factor of three. Yet the problem remained that the coal-fired engines that were available at the time were more convenient and less expensive to use.
The Tennessee Valley Authority started to set the direction however in the first half of the twentieth century by encouraging the use of hydroelectric power plants. In the Netherlands windmills began to be used more and more for pumping water. At the same time many people came to understand that fossil fuel was not a renewable source of energy and that alternative sources would need to be explored.
Alternative energy sources were still being researched when the mass market for motorcars exploded. The intensive use of motorcars exhausted it even the local crude oil supplies in the United States. This was a problem of crude oil being a victim of its own success. The initial process for extracting and refining food petroleum had been perfected by colonel Edwin Drake in Pennsylvania who had been able to produce a range of derivatives including kerosene and basic petroleum by feeding the crude oil into a fractional column.
The U.S. started to import crude oil from the Arab world where it seemed at the time that there was no limit to the amount of oil in these lands. However amongst Arabs sheikhs, wars and also internal feuding threatened the stability of supply of crude oil and encouraged efforts to be stepped up on the search for alternative power sources. Public opinion started to move in the direction of pushing for alternative power sources and their introduction in the market.
The first silicon solar cell that was able to produce a real electric current simply by sitting in the sun, was developed by Gerald Pearson, Daryl Chapin and Calvin Fuller. Their work as scientists at the Bell Laboratories in 1953 constituted the first major advance in solar energy cell generation. Their inventions however needed to face and resolve a number of technical and business challenges.
For one thing, the solar PV (photovoltaic) cells were in the initial stages much too expensive to produce. They did not give the required output either. This however changed as the invention became mass-produced thanks to initiatives taken mainly by the German and Japanese governments. The growth in the production of photovoltaic cells has since then achieved an astounding rate of growth. The market for photovoltaic energy cells using solar power is currently increasing at a staggering 30 percent per annum. Japan has already begun to make hybrid cars that use both classical fuel as well as solar power, and in the U.S. solar panels operate for many homes and workplaces to provide heating.
Solar power should therefore increase in use throughout the world . We can also expect it to become less and less expensive. This is a natural consequence of leveraging a renewable source of energy provided by nature and also has the benefit of reducing pollution.