Solar power, as we know it, has been around longer than most of us realize. The sun has been at the center of religions, cultures and life since the beginning. It wasn’t until 1839 that a physicist by the name of Alexandre-Edmond Becquerel first observed the photovoltaic effect, the operating principle of the solar cell, and solar power became possible. While experimenting with an electrolytic cell made up of two metal electrodes placed in an electricity-conducting solution, he discovered that electricity generation increased when he exposed the cell to light.
In the 1860’s a French mathematician by the name of August Mouchet developed the idea for a solar-powered steam engine. They developed the engine over the next 20 years and were able to use them for a variety of applications.
The rest of the 1800’s led to other discoveries which paved the way for the modern solar cell. In 1876 William Grylls Adams and Richard Evens Day discovered that selenium, a chemical element, produces electricity when exposed to light. Selenium solar cells failed to convert enough light to power electricity, but they proved that a solid material could change light into electricity without heat or moving parts.


The early 1900’s saw some progress and important discoveries. Famed physicist Albert Einstein published a paper on the photoelectric effect in 1905 and received the Nobel Prize for his theories in 1921. It wasn’t until 1954 that the photovoltaic technology we know and use today was born. Daryl Chapin, Calvin Fuller, and Gerald Pearson developed the silicon photovoltaic (PV) cell. It was the first solar cell capable of powering everyday electrical equipment.
The coming years brought advances in efficiency and eventually NASA adopted the PV cell as the primary source of power on satellites. In 1958 the Vanguard I space satellite used solar cells to power its radio systems and solar power has been in space ever since.
Solar has continued to grow in prevalence, largely due to decreasing prices. The price per watt of PV cells has gone from $76.67 in 1977 to $0.73 in 2013. Over the past few years solar power has seen an almost exponential increase in residential use.

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