Solar power is created through a process called the photoelectric effect. Energy enters the solar panel from the sun. When the UV rays meet the electrodes, electrons are excited and induce sparks from the exchange. Those sparks provide power. Who discovered that this was possible though? And how did the modern solar power panel come to be?
Who and how?
The history is complex, but William Grylls Adams and his student Richard Day are commonly cited as the ones who got the ball rolling. The year was 1876, and they had been running experiments on the element selenium.
Adams and Day discovered that when selenium was exposed to light, it produced electricity without use of moving parts or heat. The discovery was marvelous. So much so that Werner von Siemens—an expert in electricity—said it was “scientifically of the most far-reaching importance.”
The process was eventually called the photovoltaic effect and the experiments began.
What happened next?
The photovoltaic effect had its flaws and needed to be improved upon. Einstein received a Nobel Prize in 1921 for “his discovery of the law of the photoelectric effect.”
It wasn’t until the mid-1950s that the first solar cells began to be available commercially. The enterprise didn’t do as well as hoped though. The technology still wasn’t efficient and it cost an arm and a leg for not enough of an ROI. It didn’t sell well, but the concept was solid. They kept working on it.
Where do we go from here?
Today, the process has been refined to produce more energy at a cheaper price. Technology improved and production increased, making these changes possible. Europe has latched onto the idea and is implementing the technology everywhere. Parts of the US have converted to the idea as well. There is only growth in this area. The technology will continue to improve while the prices continue to fall. Pretty soon it’ll be one of the only ways to create power for your home.