Although solar energy is considered a ‘new technology’ humanity has been harnessing the power of the sun for millennia. In ancient Greece homes were built to be south-facing and early Chinese architecture incorporated clever solar design to heat interior spaces. The Roman empire built upon Greek architecture using clear glass windows to trap heat and used the sun to heat the water for public baths creating the first ‘passive’ solar design (1).
After the fall of Rome solar architecture was forgotten and lost until the 16 th century when green-houses were created in Northern Europe. By the 18th century in Victorian England massive green-houses had been constructed which revolutionised the production of exotic flowers and some foods. In 1883, Charles Fritts developed the first photovoltaic solar cell (2). Photovoltaic means that that the suns energy is converted directly to electricity – Fritts had created the first solar panel (3). This technology was not developed further until the space race began in the 1950’s. By 1958 a solar cell was used as a back-up power source on NASA’s Vanguard 1 satellite. Today all modern satellites are powered by the sun (4).
The oil embargoes and rise in fuel prices during the 1970’s saw the first installation of solar panels on earth as means of alternative energy. Solar energy had started to grab the attention of the public and by the 1990’s solar water heating systems became the most widely used solar technology (5). Technological advances are creating solar energy products that are accessible and affordable from Tesla’s solar panel roof tiles (6) to solar powered Bluetooth speakers, cookers and phone chargers.