Solar fun facts (and some history concerning harnessing the sun) that will blow your mind

Think about it: life on earth would not be possible without the sun. 

The sun drives the photosynthetic process plants utilise to convert CO2 and water into oxygen and glucose. And without plants, there would be no food for the billions of mammals and other creatures that roam the earth. 


The sun is the most abundant energy source we have. 

Considering the fact that the total annual energy consumption of everyone on the planet equals the amount of potential solar energy that falls on the earth´s surface in one hour puts the magnitude and potential of solar energy into perspective. 

Every second the sun generates roughly 3.86 x 10 ^ 26 Watts through nuclear synthesis, as it converts hydrogen into helium.

In short: it´s a thermonuclear fusion reactor. 

This perspective allows for an understanding of the sun’s potential if harnessed correctly. It also explains why the sun is the future for providing clean, renewable energy for everyone around the globe. 

Luckily, the sun will burn brightly for another 7 to 8 billion years before it sputters out and dies.


Discovery of the photovoltaic effect in 1839

Alexandre Edmond Becquerel, most known for the unit Becquerel used to measure radiation, discovered the photovoltaic effect while experimenting in his father´s lab in 1839. 

The photovoltaic effect is the operating principle of the solar cell. 

With the absorption of light in certain materials, electrons or other charge carriers are excited to a higher-energy state, resulting in voltage and electric current. 

It is both a physical and a chemical phenomenon. 

In 1876 selenium was discovered to produce electricity when exposed to sunlight by W.Adams. 


The first solar cell was made in 1883 by Charles Fritts. 

It had very poor efficiency and consisted of a layer of selenium covered with a thin film of gold. In 1884 the world´s first rooftop solar array using Fritts’ selenium cells was installed on a New York City rooftop. This first-ever solar panel had an efficiency of one to two per cent.

Because of a poor understanding of the photovoltaic effect at the time, further development of solar cells was not possible at the time. 


Invention of the modern solar cell in the 1940s

Usually, Russel Ohl, an American scientist, is credited with discovering the modern solar cell and patenting it (U.S. Patent 2,402,662, "Light sensitive device") in the 1940s.

He is mistaken as the inventor of the solar cell, probably because of this patent and his work with semiconductors and the discovery of the PN barrier (later called the P-N junction) in certain crystals. 

The P-N junction is a term used to describe impurities within crystals that make some sections more resistant to electrical flow than others, creating a “barrier” between different areas that made the crystal work. 


The first commercial solar panels became available in 1954

Working at Bell Labs, David Chapin, Calvin Fuller, and Gerald Pearson constructed a device that could turn sunlight into electricity. 

At $300 per watt, it was too expensive for the adoption by people in general, but the technology appeared in toys and radios as early iterations of commercial use. 


1990 - The world´s first distributed generation PV plant

Through the 70s and 80s, the solar energy field continued to develop, with a decrease in the cost of production of PV cells and panels, simultaneously making them smaller and more efficient. 


The 1990s saw the dawn of the first grid-supported solar PV system in Kerman, CA, USA, and Germany followed close suit by starting to set capacity goals. 


Solar panels can work at night

Experiments have shown that ordinary solar panels can produce electricity at night when pointed at a clear sky and modified with a thermoelectric generator that produces currents from temperature differences. 

In an experiment by Shanhui Fan and his colleagues at Stanford University in California, the modified solar cell generated a power output of 50 milliwatts per square meter. 


Taking power production off-planet

In the late 1950s and early 1960s, solar technology was used and installed in space and became the standard for interstellar satellites. 

Space-based solar power has been proposed as a potential solution to achieve net-zero by 2050. It will involve collecting solar energy in space, where the sun always shines and transferring it to earth. 

This is not feasible today, but recent technological advances have made this prospect more achievable. 


The sun´s energy is needed to power the future

To make the energy transition happen, we will need 12 times the existing renewable power system by 2050.

For solar power, this means installing the equivalent of the world’s current largest solar park of 2.25 GWH roughly every day, and we are well on our way to achieving this goal.

With the rapid development of solar technology, the future might be looking brighter than you think.