Solar power was first discovered by a very old bacteria. The sun has been the driving force for all life on Earth since the first microbes developed the capability for photosynthesis, around 2.3 billion years ago.
Ironically, this led to a devastating environmental catastrophe known as the Great Oxygenation Event1, caused by the emission of oxygen gas as a byproduct of photosynthesis. While these first solar powered organisms caused a mass extinction, solar power today might hold the key to preventing a planetary crisis.
Where did modern solar power get started?
The roots of modern solar power can be traced back to 1839.
It was at this time that a 19 year old French physicist, A.E. Becquerel, whose focus up to that point had been related to phosphorescence and luminescence, discovered the photovoltaic effect. He found that when gold or platinum plates were submerged in a solution, then exposed to uneven solar radiation, an electrical current was generated. This discovery was seized upon by scientists across the globe.
In the early 1860’s, a French mathematician named August Mouchet began registering patents for solar powered engines. In 1878, Mouchet and his assistant Abel Pifre who would go on to develop the first solar powered printing press exhibited their solar powered engine at the Universal Exhibition in Paris, winning a gold medal for their efforts. Unfortunately, Mouchet’s work was ahead of its time. The French government determined that solar power was not economically viable, and they terminated his funding. Fortunately, solar technology trudged on.