The evolution of solar energy

Solar power has been around forever – but it’s only recently that we’ve made serious strides in harnessing its potential. Here’s a timeline of humanity’s journey to understand and work with the power of the sun.

Solar technology emerges (700 B.C. – 1905)

700bc 700 B.C. : First known instance of people using glass to light fires 
 photovoltaic effect gif diagram


1830: Photovoltaic (PV) Effect observed for the first time

What is the Photovoltaic effect? The photovoltaic effect is a generation of voltage and electric current in a material upon exposure to light. It is both a physical and chemical phenomenon.


 1888: Edward Weston patents first solar cell
Einstein explaining the Photovoltaic (PV) Effect  1905: Einstein explains the Photovoltaic (PV) Effect 

Solar technology is developed and refined (1954-1992)

1954: Bell Labs produce the first solar cells for use in space. They produced at 6% efficiency, meaning that 6% of the solar energy that hit the panel was harnessed as usable power.
Experimental 400 cell, 10 watt "Big Bertha" solar panel
1960: Hoffman electronics creates 10% efficient cell, significantly improving the amount of usable energy. 
Telstar 1, solar powered commercial satellite   1962: Telstar-1, an early commercial satellite powered by solar cells, is launched. Telstar-1 relayed the first television pictures, telephone calls, and telegram images transmitted through space. 
1978: Solar-powered calculators go on sale 
1979: President Carter installs solar panels on the White House 
1981: President Reagan orders solar panels removed 
1985: 20% efficient cells created at University of New South Wales
1991: President George W. Bush creates the National Renewable Energy Laboratory to research solar and other renewable energy technologies. 
1992: First rooftop, grid-connected system installed in Sacramento

Solar hits its stride (2000-2016)

2000: Widespread shortages in electric supply led to rolling blackouts across the state of California, spurring demand for alternatives to grid energy. 
2004: California Governor Schwarzenegger calls for 1 million solar rooftops by 2017, signing the Million Solar Roofs Initiative in an effort to subsidize the lagging generational capacity of the grid system and transition the state to more sustainable forms of energy production.
2006: CPUC creates the California Solar Incentive Program to make solar power more accessible to homeowners and businesses. More than $2.1 billion was given out in incentives.  
2007: University of Delaware achieves a new efficiency record with a 43% efficient solar cell.
2009: SolarCity releases a solar lease option for no money down. This was a major innovation because it allowed homeowners to switch to solar and save money right away.
2013: President Obama brings solar PV back to White House. He became the second elected official to live in the White House when it was powered by solar.
2015-2016: US Solar installations doubled year over year, including a record year of 95% growth in 2016.

Solar power has come a long way in recent years, but the most impressive developments are yet to come. As efficiency improves and the industry continues to drive costs further and further down, we’ll see greater adoption of solar technology. Our mission at Zenernet is just that – to Accelerate Energy Independence for All by making the power of the sun more accessible and usable for people across the country and the world.

Share This Post

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on reddit
Share on linkedin

Related Posts

Want to learn more about solar?

In a no-pressure remote consultation that takes place at your computer, you’ll have the opportunity to get answers to all your questions about going solar and work with an expert energy consultant to design a system tailored to your home and your unique needs.


Learn more about our company updates and industry news.

Solar Panel Installation

More information about the residential solar panel installation process.

Solar Panel

The aordability of solar panels and financial incentives for going solar.

Home SOlar Education

Learn more about using solar panel systems to power your home.

How Solar
Panels Work

Learn more about the technology of solar panels and how it generates electricity for your home.

Get The Updates

Want to receive solar education & Zenernet news straight to your inbox?

Let's Be Friends

Follow us for solar tips, affordability facts & snapshots of new installations!

See how much money solar can save you.