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A Brief History of Solar Power

Mar 8, 2008
The start of modern solar power history can be traced to the middle of the 19th century. During this time the industrial age was beginning to influence much of western Europe. The need for a combustible resources in massive quantities being one of them. This resource was coal and forward thinkers, inventors and scientists began to ponder what might happen to society should this resource run out. The results of this thinking is the modern solar power industry. This article will plot the history of solar power from this time to modernity.

From 1860 to 1880, Auguste Mouchout, a French engineer devised and developed a solar powered engine. The purpose of the engine was to convert solar heat into steam power. He saw the increased need for an energy resource given the sudden expansion of factories and railway lines during the early industrial revolution.

The engine was well received by the French government that saw the potential for free energy. They invested money into the project that allowed Mouchout to continue his research and development. However, when coal became cheaper and more plentiful, the government began to lose interest in a solar powered engine and canceled the funding.

Around this time, William Adams, an Englishman living in India, devised another solution. He built a rack with many small mirrors around a stationary boiler. This allowed him to get 2.5 horsepower out of the engine.

In 1885 through to 1889, Charles Tellier worked on creating a solar power system. He came up with an elaborate system of solar collectors that he installed on the rooftop. The purpose of the collectors was to cool water to power a refrigeration system.

In 1903, Aubrey Eneas started working with solar power. He studied the work of Mouchout but expanded on the scale and efficiency of the original design. He produced a solar power engine that had commercial potential. To this extent, he managed to sell one to a Doctor in Arizona for nearly $2000. It became damaged soon after being transported and was never used. He managed to sell another engine for a similar figure but this was also never used as it became damaged in a hailstorm.

At this time, Henry E. Willsie made two solar plants that collected and stored energy during the day to be used during the night. His innovation was to use flat plate collectors that gave a power rating of approximately 15 horsepower.

In 1906, Frank Shuman made improvements of the original Willsie design. This increased the engine output to 33 horsepower. He continued to tweak his designs to the extent that he managed to get the engine up to 55 horsepower.

Not much progress was made at the begin of the 20th century until after the second world war. In 1954, Bell laboratories noticed the reaction of silicon with sunlight. Further research led to the development of the photovotaic cell (PV)

A Photovoltaic (PV) cell is the fundamental element that makes up the solar panels that are generally placed on rooftops. Solar panels create direct current from sunlight.

During the 1970's, gas shortages and increasing oil prices kick started interest in alternatives to fossil fuels. More time and money was dedicated to alternative energy, including solar power. Most of the research in solar power centered on getting PV cells more efficient while being less expensive.

PV cells have developed significantly since the early days. They are now increasingly cheaper and more efficient than their predecessors. This improvement will continue as people and governments begin to take solar power seriously. More people are installing solar panels in their homes and this will only increase in the future. More grants and subsidies exist for the creators and users of solar powered technology.
About the Author
For more solar power information visit solarpowerappliances.com. You will find products and features on solar applications, including solar power outdoor lighting and getting rebates on solar systems.
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