Solar power technology has advanced greatly over the past centuries as well as the past decades.
Very early solar technology, around the 2nd century BC, was when the ancient Romans designed homes and bath houses with an efficient architectural design that used sunlight to heat homes and water. This idea of using the sun’s heat was the origin of solar technology, and is today known as passive solar power.
People of the ancient past also used reflective mirrors to harness the sun’s heat to create concentrated heat to start fires. Today we know this solar technology as a concentrated solar thermal system. Today there are systems that use several mirrors to concentrate the sun’s heat on one specific location. This location can be intensely heated by the many mirrored reflections of the sun’s rays and can be used to heat water into steam to be used in a steam turbine generator. Today there are many large scale concentrated solar power plants in the United States that provide electrical power to thousands of homes and businesses.
Solar technology took a huge leap into the future in the 1800’s when the photovoltaic effect was discovered. The photovoltaic effect is when the sun’s light – as opposed to the sun’s heat – could be used to generate electricity. However, it was not until around the 1950’s that the first usable solar panel was developed to take advantage of the photovoltaic effect to generate usable electricity. Photovoltaic solar panels are a very common form of solar technology seen today.
Today solar technology is steadily increasing in power and usability and decreasing in cost, although it is still very expensive. A large problem with solar technology today is that in order to receive significant power from a solar panel, a large space is needed, which is why scientists are trying to greatly reduce the size needed for solar power technology and solar panels.