A lot of people think that solar power is a new technology; however, it has been around for quite some time now. The infographic below shows exactly that.
The photovoltaic effect was first found by Alexandre Becquerel in 1839, almost 200 years ago. It only took about 60 years for the first solar cell to be patented by Melvin Severy even though the first solar cell was created by Aleksandr Stoletov.
Moving on through the industrial age Albert Einstein published the first paper on the photovoltaic effect in 1904, but it wasn't till 1959 that Hoffman Electronics created a 10% efficient solar cell and could finally tie the solar into the grid.
Pushing forward into the space age, the first manned solar spacecraft was Soyuz 1 in 1967 by Russia followed by the US Skylab in 1973.
President Obama isn't the first president to push for solar power on the White House, President Carter also installed solar power on the White House and started to promote incentives for solar. This had a good effect as by 1983 the photovoltaic production exceeded 21.3 Megawatts.
NREL was the next thing to be implemented by a president involving photovoltaics in 1991 by President George H.W. Bush, and before the turn of the centrury the worldwide installed solar power reached 1000 Megawatts.
Finally in 2004 California Governor Schwarzenegger proposed the Solar Roofs Initiative. This is well on its way making California one of the greenest states in the US. President Obama is now working towards getting solar panels back on the roof of the White House.
So solar has actually been around for quite some time, but it took time to hit the main stream. Now, with governors, presidents, NREL, and many other organizations working together, becoming grid free isn't that far off.