Mar 24, 2011

History of Solar Power

Solar power isn't a very recent technology considering ancient civilizations experimented with different ways to trap the Sun's heat within their homes during winter. However, the solar power as we know it today has its origins in the 1880s when the first photovoltaic cells were created to convert sunlight into electrical power [1].

Naturally, the efficiency level of this cell was minute - around 1-2% which is nothing compared to the current efficiencies that average around 20%. Nevertheless, it laid the foundation for the commercial use of solar power and pretty soon, the first commercial solar powered water heater was invented.

The solar power industry has come a long way since then even though efficiency levels are wanting.  New mechanisms to improve the efficiency level have been experimented with, such as photovoltaic panels that track the sun to maximize absorption, as well as using certain materials to harvest ‘hot electrons’ before they lose their heat [3].

The cost of solar power generation is also a concern as it hinders widespread use. Currently, the technology is only cost-effective for households that do not have access to the national grid. The lower cost of power generation through non-renewable energy is slowly rising and power supply companies are now actively involved in developing alternative energy sources (wind power, hydel, biogass, etc.) The mass production of renewable energy will eventually drive down prices but perhaps greater government support is needed to mass produce in the first place.