The Somerville Times Historical Fact of the Week – May 28

On May 28, 2014, in Latest News, by The Somerville Times

*eagle_webEagle Feathers #53 – “Solar”ville

By Bob (Monty) Doherty

About three weeks ago, Somerville had two days in a row of 80 degree weather, the first time since last August. The winter was long and cold, but the sun did shine; and we all benefitted from its power. The sun has been out there for about 4.5 billion years and scientist’s say it hasn’t even approached its middle age yet. It’s a huge entity in which its actions give us our heat, water, and vegetation. It took a long time, 200,000 years, but newcomer, “man,” is now tapping its gifts.


Look around you. Its seeds are sprouting all over in the form of solar panels. You can find them everywhere and in every size. They provide power to laptops, toys and hearing aides, to the roof of the White House and space vehicles on the moon. Locally, you can see an increasing amount of roof top panels, and even the squares and parks of Somerville are sprinkled with solar-panel trash compactors called Big Belly. Solar power has come to Gillette Stadium’s Patriot Place and also to Fenway Park, the first professional baseball stadium to go solar. Massachusetts currently has about 47 solar panels for every seat at Fenway. Even on Route 93, as it winds through the city, you can observe that some of its signs and equipment are solar, as are the rooftops of some of the buildings that border it.


These solar panels have more to do with Somerville than one would think. In 1909, The New York Herald, Scientific American, Modern Electronics, Technical World Magazine, and the Engineering News, were among others who featured a Somerville man in their newspapers and journals. His name was George Cove. He moved here from Canada and like his father before him, was an inventor. He once invented an automobile brake and traded its rights for a $1,400 car, a lot of money for that time. He received a Gold Medal from the Canadian government for his plan to utilize the Bay of Fundy and its fifty-foot ocean tide for power. Add to the list, a seven-year windless electric clock and other inventions. But his most pioneering and inspiring invention was the creation of the first solar panel and battery to harvest the sun’s power and put it to work. Mr. Cove successfully built and tested it at his factory at 486 Somerville Avenue, the site of the now St. Anthony’s School. Patented in 1906, it was called the “Solar Electric Generator” and was the foundation of solar energy today.


So, you can thank George if you find yourself out and about observing and dreaming of solar power at work. Solar cars are right around the corner, and highway pavement itself might soon be turned into giant solar collectors. But be careful because solar panels also power the new anti-speed cameras on our roads.


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