From 400 BCE: A Beginner’s Guide To Solar Power History


The first uses of solar energy that we know about were as far back as 400 BCE. The ancient Greeks started making their homes on the basis of where the sun’s rays could warm the house during the cold winter months, and this is the first use of solar energy we know about. It could also be considered an early form of heating.

It is also said the ancient Greeks and Romans used a form of magnifying glasses* to light fires and torches, especially for religious ceremonies.

*Magnifying glasses, although slightly different from today’s sleek models, have also been around for a very long time, with the oldest model found from 424 BCE. These were glass spheres filled with water (you can try looking through a glass or bottle of water to read something – it does magnify the writing), but it was all they had to magnify the desired object back then. They were also good for focusing the sun’s rays onto something to start a fire.

History Of Solar Power

Small Discoveries Of Solar Energy Leading To Today’s Uses

Getting to the point we are at today where a home solar system can effectively heat a home, produce hot water, and run electrical gadgets, was a long and windy road filled with small discoveries rather than a sudden breakthrough. This means tens of people were involved in making the solar power process work better and more efficiently. In some cases, this was a matter of tweaking a discovery to make it more effective, and in others of making the discovery in the first place.

Mentioned here are only a few of these contributors, along with what they discovered.

  • Although often left out of lists of achievements relating to solar power, a Swiss scientist called Horace de Saussure made a solar energy collector in 1767, nicknamed a “hot box.” Although little is said about this invention, it, or something very similar based on it, was used by the astronomer John Herschel for cooking food while on an expedition in Africa – this would lead you to believe the hot box did work.
  • The discovery that it was possible to use the sun to create electricity was made by a French Physicist called Antoine-Cesar Becquerel in 1839.
  • In 1860 another Frenchman, Auguste Mouchout, believing even way back then that his country was depending too much on non-sustainable fuel, set out to create a sustainable alternative, and within five years, he had made a solar-powered steam engine. (It makes you wonder why no one in the intervening years had the same thought until only a few years ago when panic hit.)
  • The first patent for a solar cell was granted in 1888 to Edward Weston, an English chemist living in America.
  • For a while, the “inventions” were limited to bettering existing ideas, such as using different substances to coat solar cells, so they were more efficient at converting light into electricity. 
  • In the 1920s, solar water heating systems were used in some areas in America.
  • The first photovoltaic cell was made in 1941 by the American Russell Ohl.
  • In 1954, Bell Laboratories developed the first modern silicon solar cell, much as we know it today.
  • In 1957, AT&T got a patent for the first solar battery.
  • In 1962, Telstar, the communication satellite, was solar powered.

From that point onwards, solar power didn’t look back and is becoming more and more popular. It is one of the most sustainable fuels available.

You can have just about anything driven by solar power, including a car (there was even talk about solar roads, see the section on solar roads for more details), but solar lights are perhaps the most common solar devices. As these became more readily available and more affordable, many house owners bought an array to position outside their homes. These offer not only free light, but also a light that requires no wires or lines and therefore no installation. This combination proved very popular and continues to do so today.

About The Author

Eloise Fairmont is an accomplished writer. She has written many articles for newspapers and magazines over the years, on a variety of topics.

She often found the small space she was allocated for these articles limiting, as many of the topics she covered interested and inspired her. She felt there were too many important points to fit into a small space, but editors were adamant that she had to stick to their limit, no matter what the topic. That was when she started writing books as well. This way, when a subject inspired her, she could dedicate as much space to it as she felt it deserved.

Her main interests are in natural items, such as solar, wind and wave power, wood and stone, (as opposed to concrete), and recycling. Her own recycling at home goes from paper to food and anything else she can find a new use for. In fact it might be fair to say ‘re-using’ rather than recycling is what drives her.

Eloise enjoys research, and perhaps this, more than any specific subject, is her real passion.

Her work is wide ranging, from topics like the history of food stuff, to Nikola Tesla, his life and work.
Having worked for so long with a very tight number of words to express herself in, she tends to write short books, rather than long tomes, still finding short and concise preferable to long winded.

Download Your Free Easy Guide To Solar Power

Easy Guild to Solar Power is a book designed to explain how solar power works in terms and ways everyone can understand.

It sets out to let readers have enough knowledge to make informed choices about using this alternative energy source.

There are sections on the history of solar power and how it works, as well as the different systems available.

Also, for anyone with a limited budget there are many ideas for reducing your carbon footprint in economical and easy ways.

Suggestions for home improvements, all solar based are also included and helpful tips.

A little of everything for everyone is how one reader described it.