In 1839 French scientist Edmond Becquerel discovered that light produces an electric current in certain materials. By the 1950s, scientists and engineers had expanded this discovery into the science of photovoltaics, or generating electricity from light, and invented the first solar cells. A few solar cells can power small devices like radios and calculators. Linked together in panels, solar cells can power an entire house. Every item powered by solar cells is one less device drawing power from the grid.
Applying solar energy on a small scale built technical expertise and created markets for solar powered devices. It also fueled further research into new materials and designs that capture more of the sun’s energy, helping to increase efficiency and lower costs. However, storing large amounts of electricity remains difficult.