The history of modern solar power goes back further than you might think. It can be traced back to the middle of the 19th century when scientists, engineers and inventors begin thinking about alternatives to coal. The growing belief that coal was a finite resource that would either run out or lead to political problems seemed to inspire many to start looking at solar energy. This article will detail the history of solar power from this period through to modern times.
From 1860 to 1880, Auguste Mouchout, a French engineer devised and developed a solar powered engine. The purpose of the engine was to convert solar heat into steam power. He saw the increased need for an energy resource given the sudden expansion of factories and railway lines during the early industrial revolution. The French Emperor was so impressed with the device that he gave Mouchout a state subsidy to continue developing the engine. The subsidy eventually lapsed without much headway and cheaper coal resources were negotiated putting an end to the solar powered engine in France. Around this time, William Adams, an Englishman living in India, devised another solution.
He built a rack with many small mirrors around a stationary boiler. This allowed him to get 2.5 horsepower out of the engine. In 1885 for approximately 4 years, Charles Tellier performed experiments with solar energy. He eventually created solar collectors that were installed on rooftops.
The aim of the collectors was to power refrigeration units. In 1903, Aubrey Eneas began investigating solar power. He drew his inspiration from the ideas of Mouchout but increased the scale of Mouchout's work.
He created a solar power engine that could be sold to the public. In fact he made a sale of one engine to a doctor in Arizona. For around $2000 it was dispatched to Arizona but became damaged soon after and was never operational.
Eneas went on to sell one more engine for around the same sum but this was also never operated because it was damaged soon after set up by a hailstorm. At this time, Henry E. Willsie made two solar plants that collected and stored energy during the day to be used during the night.
His innovation was to use flat plate collectors that gave a power rating of approximately 15 horsepower. In 1906, Frank Shuman enhanced Willsies system such that the engine had a capacity of around 33 horsepower. With more improvements this figure reach 55 horsepower.
Not much progress was made at the begin of the 20th century until after the second world war. In 1954, Bell laboratories noticed the reaction of silicon with sunlight. Further research led to the development of the photovotaic cell (PV) A Photovoltaic (PV) cell is the fundamental element that makes up the solar panels that are generally placed on rooftops. Solar panels create direct current from sunlight.
When the energy crises hit in the 1970's, it caused many people to look at how they got there energy resources. This increased the thinking that alternatives to fossil fuels had to be found so that the energy resources couldn't be used as a political bargaining chip again. This increased the interest in solar power. Research went into improving PV cells.
PV cells have developed significantly since the early days. They are now increasingly cheaper and more efficient than their predecessors. This improvement will continue as people and governments begin to take solar power seriously. More people are installing solar panels in their homes and this will only increase in the future. More grants and subsidies exist for the creators and users of solar powered technology.
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