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The journey of Jimmy Carter’s solar panels

December 23rd, 2019 | By Roger Kuznia

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On a June day in 1979, Jimmy Carter unveiled 32 thermal solar panels perched atop the roof of the West Wing of the White House. The setting was perfect – the sun was shining as the press came out to document this momentous occasion. These are arguably the most famous solar panels ever installed.

Even Jimmy Carter recognized the historic nature of the solar panels, as he remarked at the time how generations would see the panels as “a curiosity, a museum piece” or “a small part of one of the greatest and most exciting adventures ever undertaken by the American people.” And, Carter was right, some of his White House solar panels are now museum pieces.

President Ronald Reagan removes Carter’s solar panels

Although Carter’s solar panels remained on the roof of the White House for seven years, throughout Ronald Reagan’s first term and into his second, the solar panels were removed for “roof repairs” and never re-installed.

They were put into storage in a warehouse in Virginia and pretty much forgotten. The Reagan administration also let Carter’s financial solar incentives expire as his solar panels gathered dust in Virginia.

Oh, the places these used solar panels have gone

After spending five years in Virginia, the used solar panels traveled to Unity College in Maine, as a publicity stunt to bring attention to the college’s environmental education mission, where they remained for decades.

But thermal solar panels are full of water and plumbing and don’t last forever. And solar panel technology has come a long way since then and is much more efficient than these older designs.

Unity College used the panels until 2005, with one later becoming a part of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History located in Washington, D.C, a little more than a mile from their original spot on the White House roof.

One was sent to the Jimmy Carter Library and Museum in Atlanta and another to the Solar Science and Technology Museum in Dezhou, China. Another of these used solar panels is on display at the Vermont headquarters of NRG Systems, as a testament to Carter’s vision for a sustainable future.

Solar panels return to the White House

Although Carter’s used solar panels have been dispersed throughout the world, solar panels returned to the White House grounds under President George W. Bush.

In 2003, Bush quietly installed a 9 kW solar system on the grounds maintenance building. He also installed two solar thermal systems to supply electricity to the White House, one to heat the spa and one to heat the pool.

Though not as ambitious or as well-publicized as Carter’s solar panels, they were a step toward a more energy-efficient White House.

Within months of moving into the White House, President Obama set a goal of reducing the government’s carbon footprint and increasing its use of renewable energy. The White House was included in this mandate, and solar panels were installed there in 2010.

In September 2010, a group of students from Unity College presented White House officials with one of President Carter’s used solar panels to commemorate the administration’s solar initiative.

Your house might not be the White House, but the value of generating clean energy has never been higher. If you are ready for a solar panel installation at your home or business, contact a solar expert or call (877) 4-GO-Pink, and one of our solar representatives will help you determine what is the best installation for your needs.

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