A Look at the History of Solar Panels

There is no doubt that energy is getting more expensive with each passing year. Thus, many people are forced to find an alternative source of energy. One of the most feasible alternatives is solar energy. This is a very cost-effective source of electricity to power your home, though you might need a considerable amount of money for the initial installation. Nevertheless, you will surely enjoy its benefits for years to come.

It is worth noting that the idea of using the Sun as a source of energy has been with us since times immemorial. But modern solar panels just started popping up in the 19th century. Here is a quick glimpse of the history of solar cells:

19th century

It was Alexandre Edmond Becquerel who first observed that heat energy from the Sun could be converted into usable electricity. This observation happened in 1839. It is known as photovoltaic effect, which took place through the use of electrodes and a conductive solution with the addition of light. In 1873, Willoughby Smith discovered that selenium, a metallic element, exhibits photoconductivity. With the combination of selenium and the photovoltaic effect, the selenium cell was invented. Afterwards, in 1887, Heinrich Hertz discovered the photoelectric effect, which was used to further improve the solar cell.

Solar Panels

20th century

At the close of 19th century, more and more improvements to solar cell technology were made. The photoelectric effect was observed more meticulously from 1901 to 1916. Because of the increasing knowledge about the photoelectric effect, the solar cell became more and more efficient. In 1918, Jan Czochralski successfully produced crystallised metals. This invention was later used to create crystal silicon, which is now used in solar panels.

In the 1920s, the creation of flat-plate photo collectors was achieved, which paved the way for the modern appearance of the solar panels you see today. The use of solar panels was first popularised in apartment buildings located in Florida and California. Later, Bell Labs used solar panels as a means of powering space shuttles, satellites, and other devices. This was a very practical use of solar panels because of the extreme heat energy found outside the atmosphere of the Earth.

Finally, in 1950, Bell Labs introduced to the general public the very first silicon solar cells and panels that could actually power household appliances. At the time, even the New York Times dubbed the new invention as the start of the age of harnessing the “limitless energy of the Sun.”


The amazing transformation of solar cells – from 1839 until 1950 – has inspired enthusiasm for renewable sources of energy. Most governments are now promoting the use of solar energy as a primary alternative source of energy. This is very evident with the rising demand for solar cells and solar panels.

Today, you can find solar panels almost anywhere, from the rooftops of your neighbours to the traffic lights in the streets. They have tremendously decreased greenhouse gas emissions and, together with other renewable sources of energy, solar cell technology is now leading the change of how humans derive their energy production. Some are even offering free solar panels, such as