Location: Early Solar 1000BC - 1920s
Early Solar Power Usage. Solar Ovens and Generators for Solar Power
The basic history of solar is that of heat, growth and capture of that heat until the 1700s. The ancients knew of the sun's power, but they didn't have the power to turn it into electricity. The ancient Greeks, Romans, Eqyptians, Mayans, and Native Americans were the first to use solar power to their benefit, dating back as early as 100BC. Homes built with a Southern Face in the Northern hemisphere, and and northern face in the southern hemisphere get the sun in the day, capturing the heat. To accentuate the benefit, the most important buildings and houses were built into the side of hills to take advantage of the heat storage, earthen insulation to capture the sun during the day, to either release it during the night. The Romans added the invention of glass, to invent windows to trap the warmth of the sun in their homes. The Romans also built the first green houses, and were able to grow tropical crops in adverse geographical locations, in all seasons.
The first photovoltaic electrons...well kinda...
In 1776 that the first solar collector, built by Horace de Saussare, made power. But he built an oven first. It's roots were originally, in the first known Western solar oven in 1767. As a result of trying several designs before determining that a well-insulated box with three layers of glass to trap outgoing thermal radiation created the most heat, he built a box and tested the theories. The highest temperature he reached was 230° F, which he found did not vary significantly when the box was carried from the top of Mt. Cramont in the Swiss Alps down to the Plains of Cournier, 4,852 feet below in altitude. With the outside temperature deviation of 34° F, he established that the external air temperature and altitude played no significant role in this solar heating effect.
Years after the oven was proven, he hooked it up to an ammonia boiler, and created a steam generator for electrical generation. His collector was cone shaped and would boil ammonia that would then perform like a refrigeration system, high pressure steam, low pressure liquid, with the changes in phase driving the steam engine. The locomotion was used to run a generator and make power. This first solar power collector attracted much interest in the scientific community through the 19th century bus simply terribly inefficient.
[1 Butti, Ken (2004-12-1). "Horace de Saussure and his Hot Boxes of the 1700s". Solar Cooking Archive, Solar Cookers International (Sacramento, California). http://www.solarcooking.org/saussure.htm. Retrieved 2010-1-13.]
Steam engines were found to be less viable than normal fueled systems in the 1800s, and the steam and solar systems were essentially scrapped. These solar systems, were just expensive, in lieu of cheaper fossil fueled designs. Wood, coal, and oil were more feasible, controllable, and powerful fuel systems. Based on the steam engines inefficiency, solar stove ideas were scrapped, combustion engines made the game unfair. The solar camp never gave up though, with a small victory a 100 years later, in 1891, when the first commercial solar water heater was patented by Clarence Kemp, an American.