Slideshow: A History of Solar Energy

We at State & Local Energy Report are committed to covering all aspects of energy in America and telling the stories of the men and women who shape its policy, technology, and innovation. Our next major project involves the history of solar energy in the United States. To kick off the project, here is a selection of photos illustrating the development of the American solar industry.

President Carter dedicates the White House solar installation, June 20, 1979.

Under sponsorship of the Energy Research and Development Administration (ERDA) the first solar-driven air-conditioning system in a public school has been added to the solar heating installation on the center wing of the Timonium Elementary School near Baltimore, Maryland. c. 1975

A three-bladed wind turbine and a solar heating system together provide about 80% of the heat needed by this experimental home at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. c. 1977

Researchers at the South Central Poultry Research Laboratory, Mississippi State, Mississippi, have installed two types of solar collectors on a poultry house. The collector on the foreground heats the ventilation air used in the house during daylight hours. The other collector heats water that is stored for heating the house at night. Research assistant Jerry H. Drott checks the pyranometer—an instrument that measures solar radiation. c. 1977

A solar energy collector is adjusted by Robert P. Stromberg, supervisor of the Energy Systems Division at the Energy Research and Development Administration’s Sandia Laboratories. The highly-reflective curved metal plates cause the sun’s rays to converge on the glass tube in the center. Water or another liquid contained in a pipe within the glass tube is heated by the sun’s rays and circulated to utilize the collected heat. c. 1974

This artist’s concept depicts a fixed mirror type of solar collectors in the Southwest. c. 1975

Rear view of some of the 72 heliostat arrays are shown in the “ready” position for the first major focusing test at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Solar Thermal Test Facility at Sandia Laboratories. c. 1977

This is NASA’s Goldstone Tracking Station near Barstow, California. Normally used to communicate with Interplanetary spacecraft, the big 85-foot Venus dish, as it is called, is also now serving as a research tool to study the problems of beaming converted solar energy from a satellite in space back to Earth, where it can be reconverted to electricity. c. 1979

Scientists are monitoring this model solar energy building at PPG Industries’ Harmarville, Pa., research center near Pittsburgh as a prelude to construction of “solar skyscrapers.” c. 1975

Sun’s rays are focused on receiver tubes in the center of parabolic solar collectors at the Solar Total Energy System Test Facility at Sandia Laboratories. c. 1976

Curing a crop—and a fuel shortage: In North Carolina State University’s “solar barn,” fiberglass walls and black heat-absorbing framework trap sun-heated air to dry tobacco. The innovative structure converts to a greenhouse during the offseason. The system can save a third of the propane needed to cure tobacco in conventional drying barns. Undated photo

A small solar panel powers a remote highway emergency call box in a national park.
Undated photo

All photos courtesy of the U.S. Department of Energy