How People Discovered Solar Energy

Solar energy has come a long way since people have discovered that the sunlight can produce energy. In fact, it dates back to 7th century B.C. when our ancestors started lighting fires using glass as a magnifier.




700 B.C. 

Back in the 7th century B.C. our ancestors discovered how to light fires using glass as a magnifier.

212 B.C. 

The Greek scientist Archimedes was said to have used the reflective properties of bronze shields to set fire to an invading Roman fleet in 212 B.C.


The solar oven used sunlight to heat meals and no electricity was required.


In 1839, the French scientist Edmund Becquerel discovered the photovoltaic effect during an experiment. Later on in 1876, William Grylls Adams and Richard Evans Day discovered that selenium produces electricity when exposed to light, the first proof a solid material could convert light into electricity without any other external energy.


In 1905, Albert Einstein publishes a paper on the theory of ‘photoelectric effect’. Later on, in 1916, Robert Millikan provides experimental proof of Einstein’s theory which results in Einstein winning a Nobel prize for the paper in 1922.


Calvin Fuller, Gerald Pearson and Daryl Chapin discovered the silicon solar cell. The cost, however, is far from from the reach of everyday people.

At $300 for a 1 watt solar cell, it was both far too inefficient and expensive for commercial and consumer interests.


The first solar cells used in toys and radios started to appear in 1956. These novelty items were the first instance of consumers purchasing solar cells. In the early 1960’s, the satellites in the US and Soviet space programs were powered by solar cells.


Solar cells are widely used on railroad crossings, in remote places to power homes and in microwave towers to expand their telecommunication abilities. Even desert regions saw solar power bring water to the soil where line fed power was not an option.