The Sun God
Since ancient times, the Sun is recognized as a source of life, so much so that some populations consider it as a deity. Hindu scriptures define the sun as “one who nourishes”. For Greek philosophy Plato, it embodied the image of good.
Proof of solar energy emerged in the tales of Ancient Greece. Some artistic depictions show how during the first sporting events, the Olympic flame stemmed from a lens that focused the solar heat on the tip of a baton. A similar method was used to create bonfires during festivals and religious rituals.
A brilliant weapon
According to legend, Archimedes used a system of reflecting mirrors to converge the sun rays towards a specific point, coinciding with the sails of Roman vessels besieging Syracuse during the second punic war. The sails bursting to flames were testament to the sun’s incredible power!
An imperial harvest
Romans introduce glass in dwellings as a way to increase luminosity and retain warmth. Ancient Rome’s spas were the empire’s to-go leisure centers and benefited much from large south-facing glassed openings. Around 37 AD the first glass greenhouse is built in order to grow vegetables that were served to Emperor Tiberius.
The discovery of refraction
The Arab polymath Ibn Al-Haythnam in his “Book of Optics” is the first to explain how the refraction of light works and why a sphere of transparent material focuses solar radiation in a point located underneath the very same sphere. His work would have great influence on Francis Bacon and other European philosophers.
Leonardo da Vinci designs a parabolic mirror capable of harnessing solar energy to dry sheets of cloth. In his work “De distillatione”, the philosopher and alchemist Giovanni Battista Della Porta describes the workings of a solar-powered seawater distiller.
The first solar collector
The Swiss scientist and climber Horace de Saussurre is credited with the invention of the first solar collector. With a wooden pot covered in black cork and three layers of glass, he manages to capture the sun’s heat and boil water for cooking purposes.
From platinum to electricity
French physicist Edmond Becquerel notices how some platinum rods - when hit by sun rays - generate a small electrical current. It’s known as the photoelectric effect and its the underlying phenomenon of today’s photovoltaic cells.
Selenium’s turning point
British electrical engineer Willoughby Smith discovers that selenium if exposed to light, improves its electric conductivity.
The first solar cell
US scientist Charles Fritts manufactures the first solar cells made from a layer of selenium and a gold foil. Their conversion rate was lower than 1% but they opened the gate for a widespread use of solar energy as an energy source.
Up on NY’s sun-kissed roofs
The first solar panel was mounted on a New York roof. Its performance was well below acceptable levels so its production was abandoned.
Einstein, photons, and electrons
Albert Einstein is awarded the Physics Nobel Prize for its groundbreaking work that led to his formulation of the photoelectric effect, neatly explaining how light interacts with electricity. The scientist theorized that light is made by photons containing energy, which in turn set in motion electrons from some materials like selenium.
Silica, the beginning of a new era
Chapin, Filler, and Pearson develop a silica-based solar cell, converting solar energy in electricity, thus serving as a power source for everyday appliances. The New York Times hailed this invention as “the start of a new era that will finally lead to harness limitless energy of the sun to benefit humankind”.
Sun and space
Silica cells feature on the US-built Vanguard I, the first solar-powered satellite. This leads the way for solar energy to become an integral part of satellites, powering the space-orbiting infrastructure that delivers news, movies, weather information, phone communications and much more to contemporary society.
From factories to roads
The first photovoltaic cells hit the market, albeit at a prohibitive price. This is until Elliot Berman managed to engineer solar cells with a lower production cost, allowing their implementation on emergency lights, lighthouses and railway crossings.
The first global oil shock caused widespread disruption and the resulting crisis paved the way for a run on renewable energy sources.
Markus Real installed 3 kW solar arrays on 333 rooftops in Zurich, demonstrating the feasibility of a new energy model and paving the way for the development of residential photovoltaics. Switzerland emerged as the first country to subsidize the installation of photovoltaic facilities.
Four-wheeled solar energy
The first car to be powered through solar cells hits the road in Australia. It’s the Quiet Achiever.
The European boom
Europe’s installed photovoltaic power surpasses the 1 GWp mark (peak gigawatt): a 69% growth compared to the previous year, thanks to sustained investments (coming from Germany) and through the spread of purpose-made tax rebates (Italy’s “Conto Energia” scheme).
The sun rises east, more than ever
Construction on China’s Tengger Desert Solar Park gets underway, slated to become the world’s largest photovoltaic facility.
Innovation, made in Italy
In 2011, Enel Green Power opened its own solar panel factory. Located in Catania, Italy, 3SUN manufactures the world exclusive, cutting-edge bi-facial solar panels featuring HJT technology, guaranteeing high performance in terms of efficiency and low degradation over their lifecycle. True to its namesake - The Sun Factory - our facility works 24/7 to manufacture 1,400 PV panels per day, totalling about 500 thousand each year.
Powerful, sustainable and quiet
The sky's the limit
The average efficiency of solar panels stands at 20% although technological efficiency is working tirelessly to raise the bar, day after day. Heterojunction technology is now pegged at 24.63% while multi-junction technology is already above 40%.
A scalable resource
From household roofs to large photovoltaic solar parks, solar energy is flexible enough to make it the ideal solution for any kind of personal or business need.
Carbon and noise neutral
A photovoltaic power plant generates energy in a clean and silent way. Zero C02 emissions and zero decibels make a very compelling case for renewable energy.