“There is not a single ‘should give’ or ‘guess’ about it. Sun power is now a fact, and is no longer in the ‘beautiful possibility’ stage. It can compete profitably with coal in the true tropics now.”
—Frank Shuman, American engineer and solar energy pioneer, 1913
In 1515, Leonardo da Vinci made sketches of a parabolic mirror that could be used to concentrate the sun’s energy and heat a boiler. Tesla’s article, The Utilization of the Sun’s Energy, was published in 1916.
By the mid-19th century, people were aware that there was a finite amount of coal; various scientists and engineers thought that the sun could be used once the coal ran out. But first they would need to figure out how to harness the sun’s energy. This essay traces the history of solar power, from the industrial era thru the early 20th century.
The solar industry has prompted economic growth and generated thousands of jobs. In 2014, it created more jobs than gas and oil extraction, with 1 out of every 78 new jobs directly related to solar. More people are now employed by the solar industry than coal by a ratio of nearly 2:1.
For homeowners, solar panels are a good investment. A recent study compared homes with an average-sized solar photovoltaic system versus homes without them. The researchers found that buyers will pay a premium of $15,000 for a home that has solar panels. In other words, people will pay an additional $4 per watt.
Mother Jones recently provided charts that show the boom in the American solar industry. By 2016, solar power will be as cheap (cheaper, possibly) than power from a traditional grid.