What Is Solar Energy?
With the costs of power on the steady rise, we are collectively hearing about alternative energy options; Wind, Natural Gases, and of course Solar. But, what is solar?
What Is Solar Energy?
Technically speaking, solar energy has been around since the birth of our solar system, but using the power of the sun to power our lives is relatively new.
The History Of Solar
The history of the solar cell (photovoltaics) dates back to 1876 when two really smart guys, William Grylls Adams and his student Richard Day, discovered that when the element selenium was left in sunlight...it generated an electric charge. It took nearly 100 years after that discovery to start making more efficient solar cells, and that journey continues today.
In the 1950s, scientists discovered that a silicon cell was able to generate enough power to run small electric devices. While it was a huge stride in harnessing the power of the sun, solar power wasn't cheap. In the mid-1950's, a 1-watt solar cell cost about $300. That's ridiculously expensive even for today's standards, let alone the 50's when the average home income was around $4,000/year.
Here comes the 60's and the space race is heating up (figuratively and literally). This is arguably one of the times in history that a rivalry has helped evolve society, and humanity. During this decade, the US and Soviet space programs adopted solar power methods to power satellites. At the time, we didn't know just how valuable this was.
As the 70's approached, we find an unlikely candidate to help drive the evolution of how solar power was used. Big oil companies.
In the 1970s the price of solar was exponentially reduced from $100 to around $20/watt and we can thank Exxon for tackling the research during this time. They used solar to power warning lights on offshore oil rigs.
From the 1970s up until today, we have seen a multitude of uses for solar. Pick up just about any calculator, or check out a sign, or power station along a highway. What do you see? A solar panel. We know it works, but how?
How Does Solar Power Work?
While we are experts on solar energy, we want to refer to our friends at TED Ed who put together a fantastic, extremely informative video explaining how solar panels work. So without further ado: