Edmond Becquerel: The Father of Solar Panels


With the growing abundance of solar energy in the Philippines, it is not hard to hope that the country will soon become a leader in utilizing clean energy. All of the equipment, like the solar panels, would not be made possible if it weren’t for the man who discovered the photovoltaic effect: Edmond Becquerel.

Edmond Becquerel is a French physicist who studied solar spectrum, magnetism, electricity, and optics. He discovered the photovoltaic effect in 1839, which is the main operating principle of a solar cell. Contrary to popular belief, solar power technology is not a modern development. People have been utilizing this energy during the mid-1800s, during the industrial revolution. Solar energy was primarily used to heat water to produce steam and drive machinery.


The Personal Life of Edmond Becquerel

Becquerel was a pupil turned successor of his father at the Museum National D’Histoire Naturelle. He was appointed professor at the Agronomic Institute, a short-lived school in Versailles. He also became a department chairperson of the Physics department at the Conservatoire des Arts et Métiers in 1853. His son, Antoine Henri Becquerel, was one of the people who discovered radioactivity, earning him a Nobel Prize for Physics.

In addition to that, Becquerel also studied the properties of light. He paid special attention to the photochemical effects and spectroscopic characters of solar radiation and electric light. He also devised a phosphoroscope, an instrument that allowed the intervals between the exposures to the source of light and observing the effects to be varied at will and must be measured accurately.

He also explored the diamagnetic and paramagnetic properties of substances. Becquerel also showed interest in the phenomena of electromechanical decomposition, which added to the evidence of Faraday’s law of electrolysis, which are relationships based on electrochemical researches.

The Discovery of the Photovoltaic Effect

Becquerel discovered the photovoltaic effect, which showed how electricity can be produced from sunlight. According to Becquerel, “Shining light on an electrode submerged in a conductive solution would create an electric current” but, despite the amount of research and development poured onto the discovery, photovoltaic power continued to be not so efficient. This lead to solar cells having no function at all but to measure light.

While experimenting in his father’s laboratory as a teenager, Becquerel created the world’s first photovoltaic cell. He placed silver chloride in an acidic solution and illuminated it while it was connected to platinum electrodes. The result generated voltage and current, making the photovoltaic effect known as the “Becquerel effect.”

A century later, an American engineer named Russell Ohl patented the world’s first modern solar cell, after the invention of the transistor.

People might have stuck to oil and fossil fuels as energy sources if it wasn’t for Edmond Becquerel’s discovery. The sun, aside from helping all life forms grow and generating light for the benefit of all, became one of mankind’s most powerful energy source—probably one that will last until the end of mankind’s lifetime.