Solar Energy – Let The Sun Shine In!

Solar energy has been around forever – at least as long as we humans can tell. Solar energy has been used for centuries. It dries your hair when you run out of time to use a power blow dryer. It could fry an egg on the sidewalk on a hot summer day. It also melts your ice cream on the same day.

But now, “solar energy” has a whole new meaning, as does “solar energy system.” How and why has this happened? The history of solar energy is interesting.

Coal Started This Story

When coal was being used almost exclusively during the Industrial Revolution, it was the norm. No one was concerned about finding another source of fuel, although they were starting to use biomass and fossil fuels, and wood had been in use for a long time. The use of solar energy was first contemplated in the 1860s as scientists thought that coal was becoming less available. But in the early 20th century, coal and petroleum were again easily available, and weren’t too expensive.

During the oil embargo (1973) and the energy crisis (1979), the government’s energy policies worldwide were under scrutiny. There was renewed interest in developing solar technologies. Government developed special programs with incentives, like the Sunshine Program in Japan. The United States had the Federal Photovoltaic Utilization Program. Governments in many countries also developed research facilities (United States, Japan, and Germany were notable.)

To be fair, in the United States there had already been commercial solar water heaters since the 1890s. There were increasing number of users of these systems, until there were more reliable and cheaper fuels. Solar water heating was of interest during the oil crisis that happened in the 1970s but when the price of petroleum went down, so did interest in solar water heaters.

Since the 1990s, there has been increased interest in solar water heating, and now it is the most popular solar technology. There are other used of solar energy, however.

For office buildings, solar energy can provide daylighting systems and reduced need for air conditioning.

For agriculture, solar energy can run the pumps, wine presses, and even the chick brooders.

For cooking, solar energy is used for cooking, drying, and pasteurization. These can be of various forms, from reflector ovens (remember using those while camping?), panel cookers, which use solar panels to collect heat, and box cookers. These can reach temperatures sufficient to cook pretty much anything.