Who invented solar cells to harness the Sun’s energy?

Our modern world mostly relies on electricity. Several establishments, houses, vehicles, and many others, need electrical power to function. This electrical power is also present in the technology that we have today, including phones, computers, and household appliances. That is why we can say that electricity is essential to our daily lives, and living without it is almost unimaginable. 

Moreover, scientists and researchers are finding more ways to generate more amounts of electricity to supply to the world’s growing population. Throughout the years, experts already developed various ways to create electrical energy, wherein the use of fossil fuels is the most common. Among these processes of producing electricity is the utilization of solar panels. 

We probably all know that the energy coming from the Sun is the most abundant energy present here on our planet. Every day, the Earth receives an enormous amount of solar energy coming from the Sun – a total of 173,000 terawatts, which is more than 10,000 times the total energy consumption of our modern world. 

Because of this, scientists conducted various studies in hopes of harnessing the energy produced by the Sun. Interestingly, many of these scientists and engineers succeeded in developing a way to utilize solar energy. There are several ways to use the Sun’s energy – starting from the primitive way up to the advanced technologies invented by brilliant scientists. Today, one of the most popular ways to harness the Sun’s energy is through the device called the solar cell. 

In this article, we are going to look into the history of solar cells, who invented it, and how did it become useful in our modern world?

The History of Solar Cells

Interestingly, the use of solar energy can be traced back to thousands of years ago. During the 7th century BC, ancient people already know how to use the Sun’s energy to their advantage. However, they don’t know how to generate electricity using solar energy. They use the Sun’s energy in various ways – such as using a magnifying glass to create fire. 

A few hundred years later, ancient Greeks and Romans use the light from the burning mirror to light sacred torches.  

One famous story about sunlight and mirrors is the work of the scientist, Archimedes. He led an attack on the Roman ships by using the sunlight reflected from bronze shields. The concentration of solar energy towards the vessel resulted in a fire. However, this legend does not have any historic proof until today, which is why it is not sure whether Archimedes actually performed this burning experiment.

In 1839, came a breakthrough in the history of solar energy when the French physicist, Edmond Becquerel, invented the first photovoltaic cell in his father’s laboratory. The photovoltaic cell, commonly known as a solar cell is an electrical device that converts solar energy to electrical energy. It is possible to group individual solar cells to form a solar panel, which helps increase its efficiency. The conversion of the two types of energies occurs through the photovoltaic effect.

The photovoltaic effect is a physical and chemical phenomenon, which involves solar energy. It is a phenomenon that occurs when light hits a material, which caused its electrons to flow, creating electricity.

Becquerel made this discovery when he was experimenting with a cell in a conducting solution. Based on the experiment, the cell produced more electricity when exposed to sunlight. This discovery led to several other studies about the photovoltaic cells. 

In February 1873, Willoughby Smith introduced the “Effect of Light on Selenium during the passage of electrical current.” His study states that selenium could function as a photoconductor. 

In 1883, the American inventor Charles Fritts invented the first solid-state functioning solar cell, which is a result of coating the selenium with a thin layer of gold. This version of the solar cell is pretty much close to the modern solar panels.  

Since then, the evolution of solar cells is inevitable. It is evident that solar cells came a long way until it reached the advanced technology that it is today. As time goes by, solar cells, as well as other sources of electricity, keep on improving to cope up with the people’s needs all around the world. 

Additional reading:

Solar cell (Wikipedia)