During thelate 1970s, in an effort to promote environmental awareness and save the taxpayers some money during the energy crisis, Jimmy Carter installed solar panels on the roof of the White house that did little more than heat water. They didn’t last long. During a Reagan era roof replacement, the panels were removed (some say at the behest of oil companies that were offended by Carter’s commie technology).
About ten years ago, the George W Bush Administration had new panels installed, but with a catch. A maintenance shed off site held the actual units, which connected via an underground conduit to several White House operations rooms. This week, the Obama administration made good on a promise to make the White House that much greener by beginning installation on the roof of a productive, modern solar photovoltaic array. While it’s unknown how much juice these panels actually provide, Obama has stated a wish that 20% of government energy consumption come from renewable sources by 2020.
As for the Carter panels, which languished for years in a government warehouse, there is a happy ending. An enterprising employee of Unity college saw them in a magazine, and thanks to government re-appropriation programs drove a battered old soccer bus down from Maine to pick them up. The project is not without some irony however, as Scientific American reported:
In fact, since 1992 16 of the 32 solar panels have been on the Unity College cafeteria roof, located just 15 minutes from the often overcast coast of Maine, warming water in summer and winter. The rest went back into storage, too big to fit in an area that is much smaller than the White House roof. Once Marbach arrived back at the college, donations flooded in to help refurbish and install them, including a gift of $150,000 worth of pre–Mobil merger Exxon stock, money from actress Glenn Close and a mention by Al Gore during a campaign stop in Maine that year.
Hopefully this is the first of many solar photovoltaic installations in Washington D.C. I’d hope for Congress to do the same, but given that they can’t seem to agree on what to order for lunch, I expect action on saving taxpayers money, while saving the environment, sometime around the year 2100.