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Who invented solar panels?

Perhaps you have observed blue or black plates on the roofs of some houses, they are solar panels, devices for producing electricity using the sun’s rays. But do you know who invented solar panels?

Who invented solar panels?

Many years have passed since the first solar panel prototype was launched on the market. Solar panels have evolved a lot over time, as have the materials with which they have been used and the way they are manufactured. Nowadays, solar panels have nothing to do with the first models, however, it is thanks to them that we can take advantage of much more efficient solar panels, with a minimum degradation rate and a long useful life. It is for this reason that in this article we have decided to talk about the history of solar energy and who was the inventor of the solar panel. Go for it!

How did the discovery of solar energy take place?

Harnessing the sun —or rather the energy produced by solar radiation— is something that has always been carried out, either to warm up in low temperatures, as well as to dry clothes or even for tactical strategies. The sun is essential for life , it is the one that regulates the water cycle, photosynthesis and the one that maintains the temperatures on the planet. It is a star that has been venerated in practically all civilizations, from the Egyptian to the Celts, the Mayans, the Phoenicians and any other. Today it is known that solar energy was harnessed both in Egypt and Greece through concave mirrors from which the sun’s rays were concentrated.

Some writings from the 3rd century BC relate how solar energy was used in ancient Greece with Archimedes, specifically during the battle of Syracuse between the Romans and the Greeks. The texts state that Archimedes used hexagonal mirrors made of bronze to  reflect the sun’s rays and focus them on the Roman fleet  in order to destroy it. Now, it was the Romans who used glass in windows for the first time to trap the heat of sunlight in their homes, also who built glass houses or greenhouses to provide the right conditions to grow exotic plants or seeds. brought to Rome from the far reaches of the empire. 

In any case, the use of solar energy for practical purposes did not take place until the eighteenth century. At that time the Swiss scientist Horace-Bénédict de Saussure (1740-1799) invented what is considered the  predecessor of current collectors  to generate heat. The investigations were continued by Augustin Mouchot (1825-1912) who in 1868 created the first solar sensors. The mathematics teacher presented a 20 m 2 solar receiver at the Universal Exhibition taking place in Paris , a fact that earned him a gold medal. The investigations were continued by other scientists such as John Ericsson, Aubrey Eneas, Abel Pifre, Clarence Kemp, Frank Schuman and other scientists, including the inventor of the solar panel —as we explain in the next section—.

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Who was the inventor of the solar panel

Ahora que ya conoces más sobre la historia de la energía solar y su descubrimiento desde los orígenes de las civilizaciones, ya podemos responder al interrogante de quién fue el inventor del panel solar. Su nombre era Charles Fritts (1850-1903). El neoyorkino consiguió materializar el efecto fotovoltaico con un dispositivo que él mismo inventó y que se convirtió en el origen de las actuales placas solares fotovoltaicas. Esta hazaña fue publicada en un artículo de la American Journal of Science en 1883 con el nombre On a new form of selenium cell, and some electrical discoveries made by its use, que traducido al español significa Sobre una nueva forma de fotocélula de selenio. De hecho, las células solares fotovoltaicas fabricadas con silicio (como las actuales) son relativamente jóvenes y no comenzaron a utilizarse hasta pasados unos cuantos años. En cualquier caso, y como suele ocurrir, la verdadera proyección no tuvo lugar hasta 70 años después de Fritts, momento en el cual los Laboratorios Bell con el equipo formado por Alexander Graham Bell (fundador) y los especialistas Calvin Fuller, Daryl Chapin y Gerald Pearson desarrollaron la primera célula solar con un coeficiente de rendimiento del 6%.

El dispositivo de Charles Fritts fue el primero en generar electricidad aprovechando la energía del sol. Ahora bien, el potencial del sol —como hemos visto más arriba— no había pasado desapercibido hasta el momento. De hecho, en 1873 el ingeniero eléctrico Willoughby Smith se encargó de observar cómo funcionaba el selenio como semiconductor mientras experimentaba la construcción de cables telégrafos submarinos —algo que sirvió de inspiración al científico Charles Fritts—. Las investigaciones previas también fueron continuadas por el profesor de filosofía William Grylls Adams y su alumno Richard Evans Day que presentaron en la Royal Society el artículo titulado como La acción de la luz en el selenio (1877) y lograron construir una célula solar de selenio en un tubo de vidrio.

And if we go back a few years, we also see that the  photovoltaic effect  was discovered by the French physicist  Alexandre Edmond Bequerel en 1838. El hallazgo tuvo lugar mientras experimentaba con unas baterías fabricadas con material galvánico. El físico descubrió que el voltaje aumentaba cuando había acción por parte de la radiación solar, sin embargo, fue incapaz de explicar lo que ocurría. Al final el trasfondo físico del efecto fotovoltaico fue estudiado y explicado por Albert Einstein en el año 1905.

The evolution of Fritts solar cells to date

Fritts selenium cells were used in various applications, such as light sensors to control the exposure time of cameras, even to power space satellites of all kinds. However, today the project has become a million-dollar industry that, according to World Bank figures, is capable of facilitating access to electricity for more than 840 million people.

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