The History of Solar Power: Harnessing the Sun’s Energy Through the Ages

solar panels

The history of solar power is a fascinating journey that spans centuries, reflecting humanity’s evolving understanding and utilisation of one of the most abundant energy sources—sunlight. From ancient civilizations to modern technological advancements, the quest to harness solar energy has been a tale of ingenuity, perseverance, and innovation.

Ancient Beginnings

The story of solar power begins in ancient times. As early as the 7th century B.C., humans used sunlight for practical purposes. The Greeks and Romans designed their homes to capture the sun’s heat, an early form of passive solar design. They built south-facing windows to let in sunlight during winter, providing natural warmth. Additionally, the Greeks used burning mirrors to focus sunlight and ignite fires, demonstrating an early understanding of solar concentration.

The Birth of Solar Science

Fast forward to the 18th century, and we encounter the dawn of solar science. In 1767, Swiss scientist Horace-Benedict de Saussure created the first solar collector, a device that captured sunlight and converted it into heat. This invention laid the groundwork for future developments in solar thermal technology.

The Photovoltaic Effect

The 19th century brought a significant breakthrough with the discovery of the photovoltaic effect by French physicist Alexandre Edmond Becquerel in 1839. He observed that certain materials could generate an electric current when exposed to light. This discovery was pivotal, as it formed the foundation of modern solar photovoltaic (PV) technology.

Early Solar Panels

The first practical application of the photovoltaic effect came in 1954 when Bell Labs in the United States developed the first silicon solar cell. These early solar cells had an efficiency of about 6%, a far cry from today’s standards but a revolutionary step forward at the time. This development marked the beginning of solar panels as we know them, capable of converting sunlight directly into electricity.

Solar Power in Space – A New Age in the History of Solar Power

Solar technology found an early and crucial application in space exploration. In 1958, the Vanguard I satellite became the first to use solar cells to generate power. This success solidified the role of solar energy in space missions, where it continues to be the primary power source for satellites and spacecraft.

The Energy Crisis and Renewed Interest

The 1970s energy crisis sparked a renewed interest in alternative energy sources, including solar power. Governments and private companies invested heavily in research and development, leading to significant improvements in solar technology. During this period, solar panels became more efficient and affordable, making them viable for residential and commercial use.

Technological Advancements

The late 20th and early 21st centuries saw exponential growth in solar power technology. Advances in materials science and engineering led to the development of more efficient and cost-effective solar panels. Thin-film solar cells, concentrated solar power (CSP) systems, and the advent of solar tracking systems enhanced the efficiency and versatility of solar installations.

Solar Power Today

Today, solar power is a mainstream energy source, contributing significantly to the global energy mix. Countries around the world are investing in large-scale solar farms, and rooftop solar installations are becoming increasingly common. The cost of solar energy has plummeted, making it one of the most cost-effective sources of electricity. Technological advancements continue to push the boundaries, with innovations like bifacial panels, perovskite solar cells, and solar shingles offering even greater efficiency and integration.

The Future of Solar Power

The future of solar power looks bright. As concerns about climate change and the need for sustainable energy solutions grow, solar power is poised to play a critical role in the transition to a low-carbon future. Emerging technologies and ongoing research promise to make solar energy even more efficient and accessible. Moreover, the integration of solar power with energy storage solutions and smart grid technologies will enhance its reliability and deployment across various sectors.


The history of solar power is a testament to human ingenuity and our enduring quest to harness the sun’s energy. From ancient architectural designs to cutting-edge photovoltaic technology, solar power has come a long way. As we look to the future, solar energy will undoubtedly remain at the forefront of our efforts to create a sustainable and resilient energy system.

Let Solarvault Help Your Business

Solarvault has a range of solar powered products to help your construction site become more sustainable. Whether you need a solar powered fuel bowser, complete with many great features, or whether you need a power tower or ground mounted system, we can help.

Get in touch with our team to discuss your business needs. Call us on 01634 291491 or email us at We look forward to hearing from you.

All information correct as of 14th June 2024.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *