The history of solar panels evolved over the years from the Egyptians to our times, the need for new forms of electricity generation has made it become more popular.


Panels are increasingly popular. Logical: as a source of natural energy, solar panels, unlike fossil fuels, are much less harmful to the environment and, of course, cheaper. Solar panels have a long history. 


The invention is quite recent, but ideas about solar energy and the use of solar energy are very old. 

Already among the Greek philosophers, like Aristotle, we find ideas about the utility of solar energy and solar heat, while the Romans also use solar energy to heat their houses and bathrooms.

Ancient thinkers on solar energy.

The Greek philosopher Aristotle (384-322 BC) was one of the first to recognize the usefulness of the sun and the energy it provided. 

He thought about the best way to use solar heat adapting the construction of the house accordingly. In the third century BC, the Greeks and the Romans took it away, already used magnifying glasses to use solar energy to set torches on fire for religious purposes.

Interesting is the story, which is probably a myth, of how the Greek scientist Archimedes managed to supply the Romans in 212 BC using the reflective capabilities of bronze. 

With a solar mirror, it reflected the sun’s rays on Roman wooden boats during the battle of Syracuse (214-212 BC), which caught fire. This story is described by the Greek historian Luciano de Samosata (ca.125-180).


In 1973, the Greek Navy copied this test and with this method managed to set fire to a wooden ship 50 meters away. However, in 2005, students at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology did a similar test. 

The ship caught fire, but only when the clouds disappeared and the ship was completely motionless for ten minutes. 

According to the students, the ‘solar mirror’ was usable, but hardly possible given the combat conditions. 

The story of Archimedes is, therefore, probably a myth. But ideas about the utility of solar energy already existed.

The Romans used sunlight

The architect and Roman soldier Vitruvius (c.85-20 BC) developed a sauna, with an open roof under which was placed a bronze dome, which heated the sauna.

It is known that the Romans date from the first to the fourth century AD the so-called  heliocamini  . These were glazed spaces that they used as solar ovens to heat their bathrooms. 

Emperor Hadrian (76-138), among others, used this technique in his villa.

Hot springs with Heliocaminus in Villa Adriana in Tivoli 

In 529, the Byzantine Emperor (Eastern Roman) Justinian (482-565) published his famous legislation, the  Justinian Codex  , in which he included a provision on the use of solar energy. 

The law establishes that individual citizens have the right to use solar energy.

Finally, the Romans also used greenhouses for tropical plants, also using solar energy.

Kitchen for the first time with ‘solar panels’ (1767)


The Swiss scientist Horace-Bénédict de Saussure (1740-1799) is often mentioned as the first to build a type of solar panel in 1767, with which he could cook through the energy generated; The ‘solar oven’.

This technique, which could reach temperatures above 110 degrees Celsius, later used, among others, the scientist John Herschel (1792-1871), in the 1830s, during an expedition in South Africa. 

In 1825, Herschel had invented the actinometer, an instrument with which the thermal power of the solar energy generated could be measured.

Economizer of Robert Stirlings (1816)

On September 27, 1816, scientist and pastor Robert Stirling (1790-1878) applied for a patent in Edinburgh for his  Heaten Economiser  , also known as the  Motor Stirling  . 

This machine, which had to compete with the steam engine, used the solar rays as thermal energy to generate forces.

Uncovered photovoltaic effect (1839)

In 1839, the French scientist Alexandre-Edmond Becquerel (1820-1891) discovered the photovoltaic effect.

 Becquerel made a configuration with two electrodes that he put in an electrolyte. When he exposed this installation to sunlight, it was found that the amount of electricity produced increased.

It was not until 1883 when the first selenium solar cell was built, by the American scientist Charles Fritts (1850-1930), with the help of Becquerel’s discovery and with the knowledge of Willoughby Smith (1828-1891), the discoverer of the photoconductor .

Through selenium. After this, the Russian physicist Aleksandr Stoletov (1839-1896) created the first solar cell in 1888 that operated according to the principle of photoelectric effect.

Copper solar collector (1908)

In 1908, William J. Baileys (? -?) Invented a solar collector formed by coils and copper boxes. This collector was an improvement, particularly because Baileys used copper insulation in its collector.

Developments after the Second World War (1954-1977)

The main advances towards solar panels as we know them today were stimulated by the space travel that emerged after the Second World War.

 In 1954, American researchers Daryl Chapin, Calvin Fuller and Gerald Pearson developed the photovoltaic silicone cell (FS, called PV). This was applied in space technology since 1958. 

That year began with the generation of energy through satellites and other space objects.

However, solar energy and panels were very expensive and expensive between the 50s and 70s. An important next step was, therefore, an efficient solar panel designed by Exxon Corporation. 

This panel was cheaper to produce and an important milestone in the history of solar panels.

In part due to the oil crises of the 1970s, the US government adopted the use of solar energy in 1977 for the start-up of the Solar Energy Research Institute. 

After this, other governments also opened similar research centers.

Airplanes, automobiles and power plants (80’s).

In 1981, the inventor Paul MacReady (1925-2007) made a plane with solar energy. This aircraft used more than 1,600 solar cells that were mounted on the wings and managed to cover a considerable distance from France to England.

A year later, in 1982, Australian scientists developed the first automobile powered by solar panels. solar energy

Since the mid-1980s, solar power plants have risen like mushrooms from the ground. The largest factory that was developed produced more than 20 kilowatts and was established in 1999.

Finally real return on solar panels (1990-2016).

From the eighties, solar cells became increasingly efficient. A record was reached in 1999 when a solar cell was developed with photovoltaic yields of not less than 36 percent.

 By way of comparison: around 1960, efficiency was still 14 percent, in 1985 it was 20 percent.

Solar panels not only became more profitable, but also became more affordable for individuals, particularly from 2010. This was partly due to government subsidies. 

The development continues and records are breaking all over the world, especially in Asia.


In 2012, for example, the Chinese opened the largest solar power plant in the world: the Golmud Solar Park. 

This plant has an installed capacity of 200 megawatts. A large energy park was also installed in India: the Gujarat Solar Park in India. 

This park is made up of several solar energy companies in the Gujarat region. Together they have an installed capacity of no less than 605 megawatts.

In 2017, the performance of solar panels can be recovered in a few years. Crucial here was a Swiss invention of the Insolight 2016 company, which increased the efficiency of solar panels for individuals from 18-20 percent to 36 percent. 

These high yields already existed in the industry, but they were prohibitive for private individuals.

The future of solar panels. In recent years, there has been increasingly talk of the global shortage of energy. Scientists are looking for new ways to generate energy. 

Solar panels are also part of this. Other applications of solar panels are currently being investigated, such as the placement of solar panels in the room. 

Solar cells and solar panels are also being developed in an increasingly innovative way, which produces more efficiency and has an even shorter recovery time. 

From thin-film solar panels to plastic solar panels, harmonica solar panels or 3D solar panels; A lot of research is being done on the development of profitable solar panels. No doubt it will be processed.

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