A Brief History of Solar Panels

solar panel roofing

The residential solar system is not what it used to be in any way, shape, or form. People have been using the sun for power for thousands of years. Solar technology we know today has come a long way, and even more since it was originally harnessed by scientists just after the Industrial Revolution.  


In addition to the technical advancements and increased efficiencies of solar panels, systems are more affordable and accessible because of the research and trial and error processes continuing to move the solar industry forward.  


We know converting from utility to solar has not always been a viable opportunity for the average homeowner – in the not-so-distant past, solar energy was only available to those who could afford tremendous and precarious investments because of the initial price. But, as they say, the past is behind us and the future – fortunately – is still ahead, and it is brighter than ever with reliable, affordable residential solar.  

Review a brief version of the recent history of solar in the United States, below, and appreciate how far we’ve come since the discovery of the power of the sun.


1953: The Discovery of the Solar Cell

The Discovery of the Solar Cell - History of Solar

Before scientists knew the ins and outs of converting the sun’s energy into electricity, they understood how heat could create a reaction, like steamboats, trains, and even heating homes by simply allowing sunlight in through a window.  


The discovery of photovoltaic energy, or the ability to control how and where the sun’s energy is converted, dates to 1876, and the first few decades of development were still not quite the way we know modern solar to appear.  


William Grylls Adams and his student, Richard Day, discovered a powerful flow of energy generated by the combination of selenium and light. The selenium cell, however, was not efficient enough to act as a long-term energy solution and therefore was not a viable option for anyone to use as a resource for power. This was the beginning of an exciting time in history, and not just for solar—the Industrial Revolution had just ended, and its momentum was pressing onward. The 1876 development was a huge product of that momentum! 


Big names in scientific history were involved in the climb, including Albert Einstein, who won a Nobel Prize for discovering the photoelectric effect in 1905, which is like the photovoltaic effect we still use to manufacture solar panels today! Thanks to his discovery, solar developers understand how to build a panel that would work with the sun to give us more power than we thought possible. 


In 1953, over seventy years after the original solar panel, a group of scientists at the Bell Labs in New Jersey discovered the silicon solar cell and produced enough energy to power small electrical devices. These cells were still technically unsustainable because of their limited ability and even more limited accessibility, but no one was ready to give up. In 1954, the first modern solar panel was manufactured and put to work, and we’ve never looked back. 

1960s: Toys, Radios, and Spacecraft

Toys, Radios, and Spacecraft - History of Solar

By 1956, only three years after the discovery of the silicon cell, toy and radio manufacturers saw the potential of this new energization. They started utilizing solar energy to power their products, though it was still being done on a very small scale and in limited capacity.


After all, the technology was not nearly as efficient as it had potential to be. Beyond small electrical devices, solar energy was being considered and implemented by NASA and the Soviet Union’s space programs. Solar-powered satellites were launched into space, years before we sent Apollo 11 to the moon.  


During this time, however, a 1-watt solar cell cost over $300, and was perceived as an unsustainable alternative to electricity. It was only accessible to large organizations who were willing to pay because of its price and scarcity.


To see it as a form of electricity for the everyday American was almost unimaginable. Therefore, it was being used for small appliances and toys – as they could not produce the electricity needed to power an entire home. And, with the discoveries of burning coal and oil in the Industrial Revolution, few people felt it was necessary to change our energy resources; whereas most people did not think about the fact coal and oil take millions of years to form and will eventually run out. 


Luckily, the few who considered the finite amounts of fossil fuels took history into their own hands, and research continued. 

1970s: Mass Production

Mass Production - History of Solar

The 1970s ushered in a new era of solar panel production, one that would change the face of the energy industry for nonrenewable and renewable resources alike.  


Exxon discovered and implemented alternative production practices drastically decreasing the price of solar cells to about $20/watt, which was about 15 times cheaper than before. Solar quickly transitioned to a feasible energy source for all sorts of industries, including railroad crossings, microwave towers and, in some cases, homes. We still had to make changes and ensure the public understood how necessary renewable energy was. 


By the later years of the decade, with prices still dropping and world governments getting involved, Jimmy Carter decided the White House should join the solar revolution, and in 1979, 32 panels were installed. Solar continued to make strides in accessibility and efficiency.  


Renewable energy was becoming more of a realistic path for the nation and for the world. It was no longer just for large organizations like NASA and the US government. Both the supply and demand increased rapidly. And, because of the massive strides the technology was making, solar scientists were given more tools, funding, and the ability to make panels even better.  

Keep Moving Forward

Shortly after the White House’s installation, in 1980, solar prices began to fall. Decreasing around 10% each year as technology was further understood, more easily developed, and more efficiently processed.  


From then on, residential solar energy became a focal point of the renewable energy industry and time proved an incredibly valuable resource. The maturation of the residential solar system since the original discovery of its potential in 1953 has delivered the most reliable and affordable system since the inception of photovoltaics. 


Since then, and specifically since 2010, residential solar has gained incredible traction. Efficiency rates have skyrocketed to an average of 15%-18% and prices have drastically dropped.  


After hitting 1 million installations in 2016 after 60 years of development, it took only 3 years to double that number to 2 million installations. The popularity of this alternative, renewable energy source, has only contributed to its availability. It is now the fastest-growing renewable energy resource in the world and is one of the highest-producing.  


Solar installers are now all over the world and are doing everything they can to make solar more accessible and affordable for people of all financial standings. We can come together and make an even larger difference in the world. Production and installation mechanics continue to evolve to deliver a product more available to consumers who benefit from it most: homeowners. 

Get Solar for Your Home

The time to go solar is now. Never in the history of photovoltaics have entire solar systems been attainable to the average homeowner, and never have the savings and potential for financial benefits been better. With an up to 30% federal tax credit, state incentives, rebates, and net metering, there is unlimited potential to solar savings.  


Through Blue Raven Solar, your savings are even more monumental. Finance your solar panel system through one of our three financing products: BluePower, BluePower Plus+, and SmartStart, each built to benefit a different kind of homeowner. We have a solar solution for you!  


Our solar experts can help you determine the best product and path to making the switch to solar energy, and all you have to do is request a free quote! 


You will be contacted by a member of our team. They will discuss your potential for savings, the process of going solar, and other important factors, like warranties and permitting requirements. The process is designed to be hassle-free for you, with an entire team of solar experts working on your project, taking into consideration every detail. In fact, we have entire departments dedicated to each of these processes. 


The progress solar has experienced is unprecedented. Solar energy has the potential to power the globe and make the world a better, cleaner place, and with Blue Raven Solar, you can become part of that difference and experience thousands of dollars in savings!  


Contact us today, and receive a custom quote! We are here to make your switch to solar as smooth as possible.  


The future of energy is available now for all kinds of homeowners, and you can join the movement today. 

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