Solar power has been used for a long time, although not always in the format that we think of today. Back in the 7th century BC, the sun’s rays were used to create fire with the help of magnification. A few centuries later the Greeks and Romans were using something they called ‘burning mirrors’ to light torches.
The first solar cell is thought to have been constructed in the 18th century by Horace-Benedict de Saussure, a Swiss scientist. He created a box with insulation and three glass layers that magnified the heat from the sun.
It was in 1839 that Edmund Bacquerel, a French scientist stumbled upon the photovoltaic effect. He made an electrolytic cell from two metal electrodes that were placed within an electrolyte. The volume of electricity increased after it was exposed to light. However, it was in 1876 that a solid state photovoltaic cell was created by Charles Fritts. This was the first demonstration that solid material could be used to create electricity from sunlight.
Since that time the race has been on to improve photovoltaic cells to achieve maximum efficiency. Many scientists have worked on this since then including Albert Einstein. The modern style of solar cells was actually patented in 1946 by Russell Ohl and the first practical photovoltaic cell was created in 1954 at Bell Laboratories.
Soon the panels were being developed for use on satellites and it was not long before their potential commercial use was recognised. However, during the 1950s and 1960s this was difficult. It was not until the 1970s that the cost of creating electricity this way dropped substantially. This meant that solar power could be used in areas where on-grid utilities did not exist. Since then the development of solar panels has gone from strength to strength and now we see them on residential as well as commercial properties.