In one sense, human beings have been using solar energy since their earliest days. The first time a person warmed themselves in the sun after a chilly night, they were using solar energy.

Of course, history is filled with examples of early civilizations using the power of the sun for more sophisticated purposes. The ancient Egyptians, for example, let water heat during the day in black-lined pools and then piped the hot water through their homes at night for heat.

But for our purposes here at TerraSol Energies the history of modern solar systems begins with the invention of the photovoltaic cell which creates the electricity we tap to power our homes and businesses.

Here’s a brief outline of the development of modern solar energy, as compiled by

The history of photovoltaic energy (a.k.a. solar cells) started way back in 1876. William Grylls Adams along with a student of his, Richard Day, discovered that when selenium was exposed to light, it produced electricity. An electricity expert, Werner von Siemens, stated that the discovery was “scientifically of the most far-reaching importance.” The selenium cells were not efficient, but it was proved that light, without heat or moving parts, could be converted into electricity.

In 1953, Calvin Fuller, Gerald Pearson, and Daryl Chapin, discovered the silicon solar cell. This cell actually produced enough electricity and was efficient enough to run small electrical devices. The New York Times stated that this discovery was “the beginning of a new era, leading eventually to the realization of harnessing the almost limitless energy of the sun for the uses of civilization.”

The year is 1956, and the first solar cells are available commercially. The cost however is far from the reach of everyday people. At $300 for a 1 watt solar cell, the expense was far beyond anyone’s means. 1956 started showing us the first solar cells used in toys and radios. These novelty items were the first item to have solar cells available to consumers.

In the late 1950s and early 1960s satellites in the USA’s and Soviet’s space programs were powered by solar cells and in the late 1960s solar power was basically the standard for powering space bound satellites.

In the early 1970s a way to lower to cost of solar cells was discovered. This brought the price down from $100 per watt to around $20 per watt. This research was spearheaded by Exxon. Most off-shore oil rigs used the solar cells to power the waning lights on the top of the rigs.

The period from the 1970s to the 1990s saw quite a change in the usage of solar cells. They began showing up on railroad crossings, in remote places to power homes, and Australia used solar cells in their microwave towers to expand their telecommunication capabilities. Even desert regions saw solar power bring water to the soil where line fed power was not an option.

Today we see solar cells in a wide variety of places. You may see solar powered cars. There is even a solar powered aircraft that has flown higher than any other aircraft with the exception of the Blackbird. With the cost of solar cells well within everyone’s budget, solar power has never looked so tempting.

Recently new technology has given us screen printed solar cells, and a solar fabric that can be used to side a house, even solar shingles that install on our roofs. International markets have opened up and solar panel manufacturers are now playing a key role in the solar power industry.

TerraSol Energies is a family run business that has been serving the Tri-State area (PA, NJ, DE) since 2009.  With more than 40 years of collective global project management experience, TerraSol engineers are some of the best in the business – and ready to help. Check out what our customers have to say and then contact us to set up a free consultation by calling 888.873.9995.