History of Solar Energy

History of Solar Energy 01 TESLA Institute


Harnessing the power of the sun for energy has evolved over the years. This timeline examines the journey of Solar Power.


214 - 212

Archimedes’ Heat Ray

214 BC - 212 BC. Historians claim that Archimedes, a Greek inventor, put solar energy to use already in the 3rd Century BC. He destroyed enemy ships with fire during the Siege of Syracuse with a “heat ray”, which supposedly was a collection of mirrors that concentrated sunlight onto the ships. Whether or not Archimedes’ invention has any root in reality is uncertain. Several experiments have been carried out to verify or bust the story, most of which concluded in the phenomena being possible, but highly unlikely.

History of Solar Energy - TESLA Institute



Sunlit Fires

700 BC. We know that all the way back to the 7th century B.C., humans figured out how to make fires by concentrating the sunlight with magnifying glass.



The First Solar Oven

In 1767, the first solar oven was invented. The credit goes to Horace de Saussure, a Swiss physicist, who probably had no idea his invention would help people prepare their dinner two and a half centuries into the future.


History of Solar Energy - TESLA Institute

Horace de Saussure



The Discovery of the Photovoltaic Effect

This marks a big year in the history because Edmund Becquerel, a French physicist, 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 of solar power.


History of Solar Energy - TESLA Institute

Alexandre Edmond Becquerel



Photoconductivity in Selenium

Willoughby Smith, an English engineer, discovered photoconductivity in solid selenium.

History of Solar Energy - TESLA Institute

William Grylls Adams



Electricity from Light

Building on Smith’s discovery three years before, professor William Grylls Adams, accompanied by his student, Richard Evans Day, were the first to observe an electrical current when a material was exposed to light. They used two electrodes onto a plate of selenium, and observed a tiny amount of electricity when the plate was exposed to light.

History of Solar Energy - TESLA Institute

Willoughby Smith



The First Design of a Photovoltaic Cell

The School of Photovoltaic & Renewable Energy Engineering, University of New South Wales.
Photovoltaic Cell

History of Solar Energy - TESLA Institute

An American inventor, Charles Fritts, was the first to came up with plans for how to make solar cells. His simple designs in the late 19th century were based on selenium wafers.



Albert Einstein and the Photoelectric Effect



History of Solar Energy - TESLA Institute

Albert Einstein - The Nobel Prize in Physics 1921.

Albert Einstein is famous for a wide variety of scientific milestones, but most people are not aware of his paper on the photoelectric effect. He formulated the photon theory of light, which describes how light can “liberate” electrons on a metal surface. In 1921, 16 years after he submitted this paper, he was awarded the Nobel Prize for the scientific breakthroughs he had discovered.



Single-Crystal Silicon

History of Solar Energy - TESLA Institute

Jan Czochralski


Jan Czochralski, a Polish scientist, figured out a method to grow single-crystal silicon. His discoveries laid the foundation for solar cells based on silicon.



The Birth of Photovoltaics


History of Solar Energy - TESLA Institute

Calvin Fuller, Daryl Chapin, and Gerald Pearson, the principal discoverers of the silicon solar cell.


David Chapin, Calvin Fuller and Gerald Pearson of Bell Labs are credited with the world’s first photovoltaic cell (solar cell). In other words, these are the men that made the first device that converted sunlight into electrical power. They later pushed the conversion efficiency from 4% to 11%.