Solar panels, or sometimes called PhotoVoltaic (PV) panels, are kinds of equipment that are used to convert sunlight into energy. Many people think that solar panels are products of the modern age. The truth is that people during the Industrial Revolution were the first to conceptualize the idea of how to make solar panels because they were concerned about the future once the non-renewable energy sources, like oil and coal, are finally exhausted.
Around 1838, Alexandre Edmond Becquerel, a French physicist, discovered how electricity can be generated from sunlight. His findings were interesting, but they were not given much attention. After Becquerel’s findings, there were many scientists who tried harnessing solar power, and the primitive solar cells were created. It was only in the 1950s that three people were able to build solar panels that work. It was in 1954 that, by accident, Calvin Fuller, Daryl Chaplin, and Gerald Pearson of Bell Laboratories discovered the use of silicon as a semi-conductor. This discovery led them to build solar panels with a 6% efficiency rating. At this time, however, solar panels were very costly and rather inefficient to have any wide commercial and residential applications.
In 1958, the US satellite Vanguard 1 was the first spacecraft to use solar panels with solar cells produced by Hoffman Electronics. The space industry spent a lot of money to build solar panels that could be efficiently used in space. This is considered as the first serious application of solar energy, and this venture proved that solar panels are reliable. This milestone motivated the funding of several government researches for improved solar cells.
In the 1970s, interest in both solar panels and solar cells further increased because of the energy crisis that occurred. People realized that it was necessary to look for alternate sources of energy since people have become too reliant on non-renewable resources like coal, oil, and glass. At this time, there were large investments on research on solar energy and solar equipment. Solar energy were not only used for pocket calculators or lighting fixtures. Most people were exerting effort to build solar panels in their own homes, and to further encourage this, several states in the US, power companies, and governments of several countries introduced subsidies to encourage residents to invest in solar power in their residences. There was also an effort to integrate the use of solar panels to lamp posts and spot lights. There were even researches on how to make solar panels that are portable and could be used by hikers and campers. Even oil companies started investing in the construction of large scale solar power plants.
From the 1800s to the present time, solar panels have come a long way. Right now, solar panels are more widely used, and are more efficient compared to their predecessors. Nowadays, people can choose to build solar panels on their own just by looking at do-it-yourself guides. Right now, there are also many kinds of solar panels like monocrystalline silicone, polycrystalline silicon, and BIPV (Building Integrated PhotoVoltaics). For sure, the solar panel and solar cell industry will continue to expand.