Did you know that solar power, derived from the sun, is the oldest form of energy in the world? Since our ancient civilizations, we have had a constant relationship and a high level of dependence on the sun, i.e. solar energy. Gradual discoveries connected with the properties of sunlight and conductivity have all contributed to solar energy finding its dynamic and established role in today’s clean energy economy.
The human race has worshipped the sun as a life-giver to our planet since time immemorial. They used sunlight to light fires with magnifying glass materials as early as 7th century BC! Ancient Egyptians were the first race to worship the sun God Ra and use sunlight to heat their homes on a large scale. This trend was followed by the ancient Greeks, Romans, Native Americans and even the Chinese.
The initial discoveries
As time progressed and we crept towards modernity; energy innovators were faced with the problem of how to “collect” the heat of the sun and use it later, especially at night in the absence of sunlight. This glitch was solved by the discovery of the ‘Photovoltaic Effect’ in 1839 by a French physicist Alexandre-Edmond Becquerel. It was indeed a game-changer in the history of solar energy since it was the first step towards realizing that light could induce the generation of electricity when two metal electrodes were placed into a conducting solution.
The year 1873 proved to be another milestone year: an English electrical engineer named Willoughby Smith discovered the photo-conductivity of an element called selenium. This led to the invention of photoelectric cells, including those used in early television systems. In 1876, William Grylls Adams and Richard Evans Day unearthed that solidified selenium could generate electricity when exposed to sunlight, which underlined the potential of solar power.
The crucial invention of the solar cell
Now that electricity could be generated out of sunlight, the next big move was to create a device that could do the important job of storing as well as generating energy. In came the solar cell – Charles Fritts, an American inventor, has been attributed for creating the first-ever solar cell in 1883 by layering selenium with a very thin layer of gold. He installed the world’s first rooftop solar array in New York in 1884.
The next big breakthrough was achieved by German physicist Heinrich Hertz in 1887, he investigated ultraviolet light photoconductivity and emerged with the crucial discovery of the photoelectric effect. Following more research in the field, a Russian scientist named Aleksandr Stoletov invented the first-ever solar cell and estimated the response time of the photoelectric current.
Becoming commercially viable
The true invention of solar cells is attributed to Daryl Chapin, Calvin Fuller and Gerald Pearson when they introduced the simple silicon photovoltaic (PV) cell at the Bell Laboratory in the U.S.A. in 1954. This cell could convert sunlight at only 4% efficiency, less than a quarter of what modern cells are capable of. Therefore the cost involved was too high to adopt on a wider scale.
It was around the beginning of the 21st century that people started viewing solar as an option for their homes. In fact, in the next decades, the federal government got increasingly involved with solar energy research and development. It even offered grants and discounts to those who endorsed this renewable power. Of course, in the present context, installing solar power is far more affordable, with installation costs have dropped by a whopping 70% over the last decade or so.
Technological advancement and future direction
Currently, companies are striving towards better looking and advanced solar technology, such as building-applied photovoltaic (BAPV). This new solar cell can be integrated into existing roof tiles or ceramic and glass facades of buildings.
Technology roadmaps for the future will include research and development to achieving full competitiveness of concentrating solar power (CSP) with conventional power generation technologies. R&D in the realm of photovoltaics will strive to develop newer materials, cell designs and novel approaches to product development. In the future, solar energy is expected to be used for jobs such as electrolyzing water and producing hydrogen for fuel cells connected with transportation and buildings.
India has become increasingly aggressive in pursuing alternative energy sources, especially solar power. The Rural Electrification Programme in 2006 was the first step by the Indian government in recognizing the importance of solar power.
The website of the Ministry of New & Renewable Energy reveals that of about 5,000 trillion kWh per year of energy is incident over our country’s land area, with most parts receiving 4-7 kWh per sq. m. per day. As on 30th June 2020, our country’s solar installed capacity was a staggering 35,122 MW. India has the lowest capital cost per MW globally with regard to installing solar power plants.
Powering the future
Nimbus Solar, along with many other companies, has been pioneering the Solar Revolution in our country. Believing in constant technological innovation and state-of-the-art manufacturing, the experienced and reliable team at Nimbus leaves no stones unturned when it comes to seamless and hassle-free project execution across the country.