Timeline: The History of Solar Power


Solar power has undoubtedly developed in leaps and bounds from nothing more than a futuristic sci-fi concept, to not only a viable energy source, but Australia’s preferred energy source.

As we enter an important new era in solar power’s history, it’s more important than ever to remember just how far solar power has come.

Our timeline below highlights some of the most momentous achievements in the history of solar power, right back to the discovery of the photovoltaic effect in 1839.

1839 - Discovery of the Solar Photovoltaic Effect

In 1839, a French physicist named Edmond Becquerel, only 19 years old at the time, discovered that there is a creation of voltage when a material is exposed to light. Little did he know that his discovery would lay the foundation for solar power.

1883 – The First 1% Efficient Solar Cell is Created

By 1883 (and as far back as 700 BC), humans knew that sunlight could be harnessed as an energy source. But how could we capture that energy?

Finally, American inventor Charles Fritts came up with a simple design using selenium on a thin layer of gold to form a device producing a modest, but nonetheless ground-breaking, 1 per cent efficiency.

1954 – The Birth of Photovoltaics

David Chapin, Calvin Fuller and Gerald Pearson of Bell Labs in the United States are credited with the world’s first photovoltaic solar cell. More specifically, these are the men that made the first device that converted sunlight into electrical power. They later pushed the conversion efficiency from 4 per cent to 11 per cent.

1920 - Solar Hot Water Becomes a Reality

A technological breakthrough utilising ‘flat-plate collectors’ makes solar hot water viable in southern parts of the United States including Florida and California.

1955 – Solar Cells Sold Commercially

A company called Hoffman Electrics produces solar cells at 10 per cent efficiency and sells them commercially at $25 per cell. At this price, a modern solar system would cost over 4 million dollars!

1985 – New Solar Efficiency Record

By 1985, so many incredible things were already being powered by solar energy, including cars (1955), communications satellites (1962), a spacecraft (1967) and commercial buildings (1974).

It was also at this time that a University in New South Wales set a new solar efficiency record of 20 per cent.

2001 – Australia Introduces a Renewable Energy Target

It was now clear that solar power was Australia’s optimal energy source for the future. Roofs around the country started housing solar power systems as the market opened up with feed-in tariffs as high as 60c/kWh.

2015 – The Age of Solar Power

The solar power industry in Australia undergoes rapid growth during this period. As the cost of fossil fuels continues to rise, solar energy drops to record lows, as does the cost of rooftop installation.

Almost every gizmo, gadget and environment is capable of harnessing the power of the sun’s unlimited resources, from luxury cars, to aeroplanes and, in some cases, entire states and countries!

In 2015, solar power’s future is brighter than ever. And while it’s clear that so much has already been achieved, we know that solar’s greatest achievements are still yet to come.