Some History on Solar Energy

October 30, 2018

Even though many might think that solar energy is a somewhat new form of technology, it’s not. In fact, history shows us what types of solar energy have been around since about the 7th Century BC to the present. People have been using solar energy by utilizing the heat of the sun and combining it with mirrors or glass to help them light fires.

Here are just a few historical facts regarding solar energy milestones you might not be aware of.

7th Century BC

Use of glass and mirrors to concentrate the rays of the sun to help start fires.

3rd Century BC

The Romans and Greeks used solar energy with mirrors to not only light torches for religious purposes but to also help the illumination of the flames.

2nd Century BC

Around 212 BC, the Greek scientist, Archimedes, was able to use the reflective properties of their bronze shields to focus the power and energy of the sunlight and set fire to enemy wooden ships to help win battles during warfare. This tactic help the Greeks to defeat the Roman Empire during the war at Syracuse.

20 AD

China used what they called burning mirrors to light lights for religious ceremonies and documented the importance of using the sun’s energy.

1st to 4th Century AD

The great Roman bathhouses popular from the 1st Century through the 4th Century AD harnessed the energy of the sun by installing windows that faced south so that they could utilize the warmth of the sun to help keep their bathhouses warm.

6th Century AD

In the 6th Century AD, sunroom in houses and public buildings became so popular and common that the Romans created a Justinian Code that created a law called “sun rights” that ensured people would be able to access the sun in public buildings and in homes in order to enjoy the benefits of the sun’s energy.

The 1200’s

The Anasazi, ancestors of the Pueblo Indians in North America, lived in homes that faced the South. These cliff dwellings were able to capture the energy of the sun in the winter keeping their homes warm during the colder months.


In 1767, the Swiss scientist Horace de Saussure was given credit creating and building the very first collector of solar power. This collector would later be used by Sir John Herschel to cook his food during his expedition in South Africa in the 1830”s


In 1816, Robert Stirling put in for a patent for his invention called an economizer, in Edinburgh, Scotland. By trade, he was a minister of the Church of Scotland, but during his spare time, he built heat engines that utilized the energy of the sun. His engine later would be used in electric technology that would concentrate the thermal energy of the sun and used it as a source of electric power.


During the 1860’s, the French mathematician Mouchet came up with an idea to create solar-powered steam engines. Over two decades he and his assistant came up with the first solar-powered engines and these became the predecessor of our modern parabolic dish collectors.

1873 and 1875

In 1873 Wilboughby Smith discovered that selenium had photoconductivity properties. In 1876, William Grylis Adams along with Richard Evans Day then discovered that selenium could produce electricity when it’s exposed to light.


The bolometer is invented by Samuel P. Langley. This invention measures the light from the rays of the sun and even the faintest stars in the sky.


Inventor Clarence Kemp of Baltimore invented the first commercial solar-powered water heater.


Albert Einstein wins the Nobel Prize for his 1904 paper on explaining the photoelectric effect and theory of relativity.

If you are interested in learning more about solar energy and how you can utilize it in your home please feel free to contact us today!