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A Brief History of Solar Energy. Reagan solar panels

A Brief History of Solar Energy. Reagan solar panels

    A Brief History of Solar Energy

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    Written by Karsten Neumeister

    Karsten is an editor and energy specialist focused on environmental, social and cultural development. His work has been shared by sources including NPR, the World Economic Forum, Marketwatch and the SEIA, and he is certified in ESG with the CFA Institute. Before joining EcoWatch, Karsten worked in the solar energy sector, studying energy policy, climate tech and environmental education. A lover of music and the outdoors, Karsten might be found rock climbing, canoeing or writing songs when away from the workplace. Learn About This Person

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    Melissa is an avid writer, scuba diver, backpacker and all-around outdoor enthusiast. She graduated from the University of Florida with degrees in journalism and sustainability studies. Before joining EcoWatch, Melissa worked as the managing editor of Scuba Diving magazine and the communications manager of The Ocean Agency, a nonprofit that’s featured in the Emmy award-winning documentary Chasing Coral. Learn About This Person

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    “Intelligence is the ability of a species to live in harmony with its environment.” This is one of our favorite quotes here at EcoWatch, coming from the environmentalist Paul Watson. 1

    Learning to work with solar energy, the most abundant natural resource on Earth, serves as the perfect example of living in harmony with one’s surroundings. You don’t need to look any further than the leaves on a tree to see this at work.

    When most of us think of solar energy, the first thing that comes to mind is modern solar panels. Over the last few decades, photovoltaic technology has improved exponentially in cost, efficiency and scale, nearing a point of ubiquity in the world’s energy ecosystems. For that reason, it may be tempting for us to think of solar panels as the past, present and future of harnessing solar energy.

    However, humans have utilized solar energy for millennia in a number of creative ways prior to the development of the modern solar panel. And to unlock new ideas and insights into how to best work with our environments in the future, we often have to challenge what we consider certainties of the ways that we generate our energy.

    A look into history is often the best place to start.

    How Was Solar Energy First Used? (Up to 1800s)

    Thousands of years before we had electricity, humans learned to use solar energy in a handful of different ways. In addition to lighting, early civilizations used sunlight to regulate the temperatures of buildings and cities. That practice is now commonly known as solar passive heating — an approach to heating and cooling homes through simple devices and architectural design. 2

    Solar passive heating was so common that entire Greek cities were designed in a way that allowed every home access to sunlight for warmth in the winter. Evidence shows that civilizations in Egypt, the Americas, China and Rome (and surely other areas) all employed various types of passive solar heating or cooling techniques as well. 3 4

    Here are a few of the most notable examples:

    • Ancient Egyptians would use sunlight to evaporate water, creating a cooling effect in their homes. 6
    • The Anasazi built entire cities beneath south-facing cliffs to ward off heat in the summer when the sun was at its peak, yet still receive sunlight during winter when the sun was lowest in its arc.
    brief, history, solar, energy, reagan, panels

    Thousands of years before we had electricity, humans learned to use solar energy in a handful of different ways. In addition to lighting, early civilizations used sunlight to regulate the temperatures of buildings and cities. That practice is now commonly known as solar passive heating — an approach to heating and cooling homes through simple devices and architectural design. 2

    Solar passive heating was so common that entire Greek cities were designed in a way that allowed every home access to sunlight for warmth in the winter. Evidence shows that civilizations in Egypt, the Americas, China and Rome (and surely other areas) all employed various types of passive solar heating or cooling techniques as well. 3 4

    Here are a few of the most notable examples:

    • Ancient Egyptians would use sunlight to evaporate water, creating a cooling effect in their homes. 6
    • The Anasazi built entire cities beneath south-facing cliffs to ward off heat in the summer when the sun was at its peak, yet still receive sunlight during winter when the sun was lowest in its arc.

    However, it wasn’t until the mid-to-late 1800s that what we now consider solar power came to be.


    Most Recent Developments in Solar Energy (1800s-1950s)

    Fast-forward a few thousand years. In the decades that followed the discovery of electricity, scientists were racing to find the next breakthrough for alternative electricity sources. Since the development of technologies like solar are so complex, it’s hard to credit one person or event for its invention. However, here’s the best place to start:

    In 1839, the French physicist Edmond Becquerel (at only 19 years old) first observed the photovoltaic effect, the ability of select matter to generate an electric current when exposed to sunlight. He did so by immersing two plates of gold in a conducting solution and exposing them to sunlight. 7

    Charles Fritts followed up Becquerel’s discovery by developing the first prototype for a solar cell in 1873. 8 While still far from the modern solar module, these discoveries did attract the attention of the scientific community and sparked further research and development. It was in 1913, just a few decades after Fritts’ solar module, that Thomas Edison is quoted to have said, “I’d put my money on the sun and solar energy. What source of power! I hope we don’t have to wait until oil and coal run out before we tackle that.” 9

    But it wasn’t until 1954 that inventors David Chapin, Calvin Fuller and Gerald Pearson eventually created the world’s first modern solar cell at Bell Labs. Unlike Charles Fritts’ solar cell, the Bell Labs product was made from silicon wafers instead of selenium, and it yielded a far greater efficiency. Their patent, U.S. patent No. 2,780,765, was issued in 1957 and is the closest legal documentation of the invention of solar technology. 10

    Government Effect on Solar Development (1950s-1990s)

    Only about 15 years after the Bell Labs patent, the energy crisis unfolding in the early 1970s caused gasoline and oil to spike, spreading concern about the United States’ energy future. Energy leaders grew increasingly curious about an alternative, domestic source of energy that would reduce dependence on foreign oil. The mid-’70s also witnessed a growing environmental movement, which added further pressure on the government to divest from fossil fuels. Now, this is where we see the importance of the government in solar development.

    The Jimmy Carter Era (1976-1980)

    Jimmy Carter’s administration had a long way to go before solar was a viable public market. At the time, solar modules were still expensive and fairly inefficient when compared to their modern counterparts. But the Carter administration pushed some of the first, real support from the federal support for renewable energy. In 1978, Congress passed the Energy Tax Act to provide tax credits for homes with solar panels. 11 Carter symbolically installed an array of solar panels on the White House roof to boot (though these were later removed).

    In his speech during the unveiling of the panels, Carter said, “If we use our technological imagination — if we can work together to harness the light of the sun, the power of the wind, and the strength of rushing streams — then we will succeed.”

    Carter was years ahead of his time and could have set the U.S. on track to be a leader in renewable energy decades later.

    The Reagan Administration (1980-1988)

    The Reagan administration, contrary to the platform of his predecessor, focused his campaign on lowering energy prices. Though energy decreased quickly under Reagan’s presidency, this came at the cost of research and development of domestic energy sources like wind and solar. During Reagan’s presidency and after, many oil companies quickly offloaded their investments in developing solar energy: 12. 13

    Steady Solar Supporter

    In 1979, in the throes of the U.S. energy crisis, then President Jimmy Carter addressed the nation as he installed 32 solar panels designed to use the Sun’s energy to heat water. He told the country, A generation from now, this solar heater can either be a curiosity, a museum piece, an example of a road not taken, or it can be just a small part of one of the greatest and most exciting adventures ever undertaken by the American people.

    Former President Carter’s vision for clean, renewable energy proved to be far ahead of his time.

    While his successor, former President Ronald Reagan, had the panels removed, Carter and his family have continued their work toward ensuring that those 32 panels became a part of a much bigger story.

    Carter leased 10 acres of land in his hometown of Plains, Georgia, to be used as a solar farm. This February, the solar development firm SolAmerica finally completed the project, which will have the capacity to meet more than half of the town’s energy needs.

    This is, in essence, one action taken by one man. and it is powering half a town.

    Then, in June of this year, the Carter family had 324 solar panels installed on the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library, which will provide about seven percent of the library’s power.

    The Power of People

    Distributed, clean energy generation is critical to meeting growing energy needs around the world while fighting the effects of climate change, Carter said in a SolAmerica press release. I am encouraged by the tremendous progress that solar and other clean energy solutions have made in recent years and expect those trends to continue.

    Carter’s continued activism in support of renewables showcases the importance of local and individual efforts to reduce humanity’s reliance on fossil fuels, even in the absence of strong national initiatives.

    The solar farm in Plains is expected to generate 1.3 MW of power per year, which is equal to burning about 3,600 tons of coal. Over time, that will prevent a sizable amount of greenhouse gases from being emitted into our atmosphere.

    Many individuals, communities, and even states are joining with Carter in working toward shifting to clean energy sources. Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla, has invested in developing technology and products that are making solar energy cheaper than ever before. The U.S. states of New York, California, and Washington have banded together to form the United States Climate Alliance after President Donald Trump announced the country would pull out of the Paris Climate Accord.

    These are just a few examples of people and communities who are working towards a sustainable future. And their work is bearing fruit — the construction of coal power plants is declining worldwide, and a new report projects that the U.S. will exceed its Paris Accord goals despite the recent withdraw. Regardless of the opposition, people around the world are choosing to embark on exciting adventure to a bright, renewable (and clean) tomorrow.

    The future is looking bright.

    Solar Farms: What communities need to know

    A “solar farm” is a collection of interconnected solar panels that are strategically placed to maximize their ability to capture sunlight and convert it to electricity. Sunlight contains little packets of energy called photons. When photons from the sun reach the solar panels, it causes energy electrons within those panels to move and in turn create an electrical current.

    The electric current is then sent to an inverter which converts it from DC to AC. That power is then pushed out from the solar site onto the transmission lines where the electricity is then distributed to households and businesses.

    A solar farm is also sometimes called a solar project, solar power plant, solar ranch, or solar facility.

    brief, history, solar, energy, reagan, panels

    Does it matter who builds and operates a solar farm?

    The solar energy industry has grown by leaps and bounds since Silicon Ranch was founded in 2011, yet it is still a relatively immature industry with a wide range of participants. What has become evident over this period is that not all solar companies are created and operate equally.

    As the long-term owner and operator of every project we develop—a distinguishing characteristic of our business model—we are uniquely motivated to become active members of the communities where we locate for the life of the project. We’re here to help communities like yours build on their unique legacies while respecting local history and identity.

    We buy and own the land we use

    Our preference to own the land we build on, making us property owners and taxpayers in the local community, distinguishes us from other solar developers. We never sell or transfer our projects; we own, operate, and manage each site for the life of the project and have a 100% track record for successful delivery.

    We restore and protect the land

    We recognize our responsibility as land stewards and work to improve soil, water, natural habitat, and air quality on and around our solar farms using Regenerative Energy® practices.

    We boost local economies

    Our solar farms inject communities with significant new tax revenues that support infrastructure, schools, and other community-identified priorities, without requiring government services in exchange. In doing so, those communities are able to grow on their own terms.

    Spotlight on: Hattiesburg Solar Farm

    The residents of Hattiesburg, Mississippi are neighbors to the Hattiesburg Solar Farm.

    Silicon Ranch constructed the facility in partnership with Mississippi Power, the Area Development Partnership, the city of Hattiesburg, Forrest County, and Silicon Ranch. The facility has been producing renewable solar energy since 2017.

    “Having Silicon Ranch here has only added to and diversified an economy we already had… For the longest time, this site sat unused. It was a vacant piece of property. And now it generates funding for not only our schools, but also the community – and it didn’t require a lot of us.”

    – Toby Barker, Mayor, City of Hattiesburg MS

    The Solar Farm Lifecycle


    We work with a community like yours to find the right property for a solar project. We want to make sure that the land, sun exposure, and other factors, including proximity to the electric grid, are just right.


    We meet with community leaders to create a project plan that benefits local stakeholders and that supports local community initiatives.


    We buy the land from the property owner and own it for the long term. We design our projects with reliability and the highest performance in mind over a 40-year useful life.


    Building a new solar project means new job creation. Each solar project requires skilled labor and a talented workforce. In addition to training opportunities, Silicon Ranch works to hire from the local labor pool and the military veteran community.


    Silicon Ranch designs, constructs, and manages its projects using regenerative land management practices called Regenerative Energy. Through Regenerative Energy we are able to help restore soil health, biodiversity, and water quality on and around our solar farms.


    The solar arrays, or solar panels, are mounted on one of two racking systems, fixed mount or tracking. While fixed mount racking systems are stationary, tracking systems are constructed to move the panels with the sun from sunrise to sundown. A computer-controlled program makes sure the panels capture as much sunlight as possible throughout the changing seasons.

    Energy Production

    Sunlight contains packets of energy called photons. When photons from the sun reach the solar panels, they cause electrons within those panels to move, creating an electrical current. The current is sent to inverters, which convert it to a form of power that can be used on the electric grid. The power is then sent to a substation through high-voltage power lines, where electricity is distributed to the power grid. The power grid then sends that electricity to homes and businesses.


    Our state-of-the-art network operations center helps Silicon Ranch monitor performance of our entire portfolio coast to coast. As the long term owner of every project we develop, Silicon Ranch has a vested interest in seeing that our projects perform as designed for the life of the project. Should a solar farm underperform for any reason, Silicon Ranch takes immediate, corrective measures through our network of on-site service personnel.


    At the end of the solar project’s useful life, it will either be repowered with newer solar technology or decommissioned. Decommissioning means that all components are removed and the ground is stabilized. As the long-term owner of our solar farms, Silicon Ranch takes full responsibility for safely decommissioning our projects, recycling and repurposing equipment, and leaving the site in as good of, if not better, condition than when we first find it.

    FAQs About Solar Farms

    Large-scale solar farms in the U.S. range in size from 7 acres to over 4,000 acres.

    Solar panel size varies by manufacturer. On average, solar panels for large scale projects are about 6 feet long by 4 feet wide.

    Silicon Ranch typically uses the term solar farm, solar project, solar facility, or solar ranch. “Solar Farm” is a term that is commonly used in the industry to describe the way solar uses land and the sun to harvest a “crop” in the form of energy generation.

    When we are searching for land to use for a project, we take several factors into account. Land for a solar farm needs to be relatively flat, big enough to accommodate the required capacity to meet the needs of our customers, and near electrical infrastructure such as a substation or transmission lines so we can interconnect to the electric grid. We choose properties that meet these requirements.

    We aim to locate projects out of sight from homes, but sometimes it’s necessary to build a project within view of residences. We listen and respond to community input and work hard to ensure that our projects will not change the look or feel of the community. Use of setbacks and vegetative buffers can shield the project from view. Large solar projects have a low profile (8-15 feet from grade), similar to a greenhouse or single-story residence.

    Large scale solar projects create construction jobs and increased business for local services such as hotels and restaurants. Solar projects also create high quality, long-term jobs for vegetation management and other operations and maintenance of the facility.

    Silicon Ranch partners with or employs a diverse set of land managers, including ranchers and farmers, mowing partners, and agrivoltaic technicians recruited from rural communities.

    brief, history, solar, energy, reagan, panels

    We give a preference to the local labor pool and the military veteran community to fill these roles, further distributing the positive economic impact of our solar farm in your community.

    Solar farms do not pose a threat to wildlife. Responsible solar development can actually improve, rather than harm, wildlife habitat and enhance biodiversity.

    Silicon Ranch’s approach to land management has demonstrated that responsible solar development can, in fact, enhance the protection of wildlife habitat. Evidence reveals it is demonstrably improving wildlife habitat, specifically through an increase in bobwhite quail populations at certain projects.

    As another example, Silicon Ranch has developed and funded a private Gopher Tortoise Sanctuary in partnership with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources (GA DNR) on our privately owned lands in Clay County, GA. Working together, Silicon Ranch and GA DNR have relocated several tortoise from surrounding projects, and have room for more. We take wildlife habitat very seriously, and our investment in this sanctuary is testament.

    No. Silicon Ranch constructs Photovoltaic facilities, which absorb solar energy rather than reflecting it, and therefore do not heat up.

    When a solar farm is no longer efficient or capable of being repowered, the system is dismantled and decommissioned, and the equipment is removed. The land is returned to the condition in which it existed prior to the installation of the solar project or in better condition. All costs associated with the decommissioning process are the responsibility of the project owner.

    Because Silicon Ranch owns each of our solar farms and the land we occupy for the life of the project, we are long-term members of every community in which we operate. This means we are invested in ensuring that decommissioning will occur safely and responsibly, and that the site remains in excellent condition.

    We are leading our industry in responsible end-of-life management of solar equipment. We are the first utility-scale developer to partner with SOLARCYCLE, a solar-specialized recycling company, to pioneer panel recycling and re-use at scale. We are already recycling, reusing, or refurbishing our early end-of-life equipment. SOLARCYCLE’s approach to module recycling recovers approximately 95% of solar panel value, which can be returned to the supply chain and used to support domestic manufacturing of new panels here in the United States.

    Silicon Ranch has a systematic approach to health and safety and is committed to the goal of zero recordable safety incidents. Accordingly, the team gives every consideration to safety and control measures as part of overall project design. In addition to his 25 years of environmental, health and safety experience, Silicon Ranch’s Director of Environmental, Health, Safety, and Security—Jim Barfield, CSP, CHST—has deep credentials to lead the company’s approach to safety. Along with qualifications that include BSCP certifications, FEMA incident command, accident investigation, and OSHA 30 qualifications, he is a veteran of the United States Army as a Health Specialist of Preventative Medicine where he educated personnel on pathogen exposure, disease and occupational illness prevention, enforced military regulations governing sanitary practice and industrial hygiene, and investigated and controlled sources of pathogen and toxin exposure both inside and outside of United States borders.

    Our projects follow and adhere to all local, state, and federal regulations including fencing, electric codes, and signage. Additionally, they are monitored 24/7 so that any disturbance to the system can be quickly and safely acted upon.

    Once construction commences, external to the site, we post appropriate warnings in traffic ways to alert drivers of impending truck entrances to the roadway. Internal to the site there will be controls in place to regulate vehicles and heavy equipment on site.

    The materials and components that comprise a solar energy generating facility are not hazardous to humans. Protection of the environment is very important to Silicon Ranch.

    There is some truck and trailer traffic during the construction of solar farms, including 18-wheelers delivering supplies during the installation. Silicon Ranch coordinates to provide precise operation schedules as the construction of a specific project approaches. Once operational, the sites are remotely monitored and rarely visited except for periodic and routine maintenance. This is usually accomplished with 1-2 pick-up trucks or vans, depending on the crew.

    Why Did Reagan Remove Solar Panels?

    Did Ronald Reagan remove solar panels from the White House in 1986?

    Here’s a look at why he made that decision and what happened to the solar panels afterward.

    Why Did Reagan Remove Solar Panels?

    As part of his Solar Energy Program, in the late 1970s, President Jimmy Carter had engineers install solar panels on the White House roof.

    32 solar panels were installed during the Carter administration.

    President Ronald Reagan ordered their removal seven years later for roof repairs.

    Exactly why, therefore, did Reagan remove the solar panels?

    The shifting political context of the time could be the key to understanding the solution. For example, after the 1973 oil crisis, the country was still in shock when Carter had the panels placed.

    Carter advocated adopting solar power to reduce the United States’ reliance on foreign oil.

    When Reagan came into office, though, that all changed, the United States’ massive consumption of fossil fuels resumed once the oil crisis ended.

    Tax cuts and budgetary reductions were critical priorities for the incoming administration.

    Furthermore, the Reagan administration was typically against using renewable energy sources such as solar power. They considered it an expensive and wasteful method of generating power.

    In 1986, it was decided that Carter’s solar panels should be removed from the President’s Palace to facilitate roofing repairs. They had been sitting in a government storage facility for nearly twenty years.

    As part of their attempts to promote renewable energy, the Obama administration brought the panels back to the White House in 2008.

    Due to severe deterioration, the original panels could no longer be used and were instead displayed in a museum dedicated to technology.

    A new photovoltaic system installed at the President’s House today can provide enough energy to run the West Wing. In addition, the Obama government erected solar water heaters on the White House grounds.

    Although Reagan had Carter’s solar panels taken down, support for green energy in the United States has only increased. Thanks to technological advancements, solar power is more practical and efficient than ever.

    The United States’ efforts in this area are crucial if we are to wean ourselves off fossil fuels and progress toward a more sustainable future.

    How Many Solar Panels Are On The White House?

    Since the 1970s, when President Jimmy Carter had 32 photovoltaic panels erected as part of an energy demonstration project, the White House has been equipped with solar panels.

    In May 2002, the National Park Service (NPS) supervised the installation of 167 solar panels on the maintenance building of the Executive Mansion. The system generates electricity for the building’s maintenance personnel.

    Barack Obama Solar Panels At The White House

    President Barack Obama had solar panels on top of the White House in 2013. This was not the first time photovoltaic arrays had been placed on the famed residence; President Carter had done so in 1979.

    However, the new photovoltaic cells are six times more powerful than the ones Carter installed and are anticipated to pay for themselves in eight years.

    Today, the solar panels placed at the President’s Palace during the Obama administration remain in place.

    While they remained in place, President Donald Trump utilized executive orders to reverse several progressive programs on climate change mitigation and renewable energy incentives, including those created by the Obama administration.

    Intriguingly, and for unexplained reasons, the solar panels built by President Carter may still be viewed at museums and showhouses around the globe.

    One resides at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, another at the Carter Library, and the third has been added to the collection of the Solar Science and Technology Museum in Dezhou, China.

    Huang Ming, chairman of Himin Solar Energy Group Co., the world’s largest maker of these solar water heaters, acknowledged the anonymous contribution to the permanent Dezhou display.

    The Carter panels were a product of their era; they were only intended for water heating and not to generate energy.

    The more efficient photovoltaic cells installed under the Obama government can generate enough electricity to operate the whole White House hot water system.

    Solar energy is a crucial component of the United States’ efforts to become more energy efficient and wean itself off fossil fuels.

    Installing solar panels in homes and businesses can help reduce energy usage, and the cost of solar panel installation has decreased dramatically over the past few years.


    The White House has a long history with solar panels, dating back to the 1970s when Jimmy Carter had them installed.

    In 2013, President Obama brought them back, and they remained in place until Donald Trump’s presidency.

    Interestingly, some of Carter’s original panels are still on display in museums worldwide.

    While Trump has undone many of Obama’s climate change policies, the photovoltaic arrays currently installed at the Executive Mansion remain in place.

    Alternative energy is integral to the United States’ efforts to become more sustainable and reduce its dependence on nonrenewable fuel sources.


    Are the solar panels still on the White House?

    Yes, the white house solar panels are still on the white house roof today.

    Does the White House have air conditioning?

    Since the early 1900s, air conditioning has been present at the White House. Wilson was the first president to install air conditioning in the President’s Palace. The current HVAC system of the executive mansion was installed using high-efficiency units in January 1999.

    Does the White House have solar panels installed on the roof?

    Yes, the Executive Mansion has had solar panels installed on the roof throughout its history.

    How is the White House heated?

    Throughout the years, the President’s House has been heated in various ways. However, the WH did not receive central heating until 1840, and it took several years to cover the entire residence.

    Previously, fireplaces and stoves were used to heat the Executive Mansion. In 1833, running water was added to the White House, but it was mainly used for drinking and filling fire protection tanks.

    The White House’s 132 centrally heated and conditioned rooms include 35 bathrooms.

    If there is a plumbing or heating issue at the White House, a team of qualified professionals is available to assist.

    What is Biden’s solar plan?

    Under the administration of Vice President Joe Biden, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) will launch a new online platform allowing Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) recipients to shop for solar projects.

    According to the concept, allowing the federal government to vet developers will lessen consumer risk. In addition, the scheme is anticipated to reduce monthly energy costs by 10 to 50%.

    In addition, the Department of Energy is initiating a 10 million workforce training program to increase the number of union positions and underrepresented workers in the solar business.

    In addition, HUD will launch a new program to assist rural housing authorities in improving energy efficiency and reinvesting the savings in HUD-supported rural rental units.

    Overall, the solar strategy of the Biden administration aims to reduce consumer risk, increase energy efficiency, and create more jobs in the solar industry. This will make solar energy more accessible and inexpensive for all individuals.

    What is the Biden renewable energy program?

    The Biden clean energy program is an initiative at the state level that promotes clean energy technologies and practices.

    The program provides money for transmission and distribution planning, system-wide planning for grid expansion and modernization, state energy security plans, community energy planning, and planning for the production of renewable energy.

    The program also provides states with technical assistance to aid in implementing their programs and initiatives.

    With US-made panels, White House goes solar. again

    Jimmy Carter put up solar panels in 1979, then Ronald Reagan took them down in 1986. Now the Obama administration is fulfilling a long-delayed promise to put solar panels back on the White House.

    President Jimmy Carter speaks against a backdrop of solar panels at the White House Washington in June 1979.

    August 15, 2013 | Washington

    Nearly three years after the Obama administration promised to return solar energy to the White House, the panels are now going up.

    The project reflects the president’s emphasis on green energy and was cheered by the environmental community, which had lobbied for the installation. In 1979, Jimmy Carter was the first president to put solar panels on the White House, amid the energy crisis. The panels came down in 1986, at President Reagan’s request.

    “The White House has begun installing American-made solar panels on the first family’s residence as part of an energy retrofit that will improve the overall energy efficiency of the building,” a White House official said Thursday.

    “The retrofit will include the installation of energy-saving equipment, such as updated building controls and variable speed fans, as well as solar generation. The project will help demonstrate that historic buildings can incorporate solar energy and energy-efficiency upgrades,” the official said.

    This week’s installation may have been timed to coincide with the Obamas’ vacation on Martha’s Vineyard, Mass., so as to minimize any disruption to the family as the new energy systems are put in.

    How truth bombs for Russians may end the war

    The low-key rollout contrasted with President Carter’s high-profile addition of 32 solar panels to the executive mansion. But environmentalists expressed hope that President Obama would still use the White House retrofit as a peg for a speech focused on solar energy.

    “It’s a real teachable moment on the capabilities of solar, the economic benefits of it, and on the climate crisis,” says Daniel Kessler, a spokesman for, one of the groups that lobbied the White House to go solar.

    In April 2010, the Oakland, Calif., company Sungevity launched its Solar on the White House campaign by offering to donate a system to the White House. On Thursday, there was no word on who was installing the White House’s solar panels, or how much it would cost.

    The founder of, Bill McKibben, applauded the White House move.

    “Better late than never – in truth, no one should ever have taken down the panels Jimmy Carter put on the roof way back in 1979,” Mr. McKibben said in a statement. “But it’s very good to know that once again the country’s most powerful address will be drawing some of that power from the sun.”

    Get stories that empower and uplift daily.

    In September 2010, McKibben and a group of students from Unity College in Maine took a road trip to Washington to return one of the Carter-era panels to the White House and request that it be reinstalled, or at least that the White House pledge to put up new panels. (About half of the Carter panels had been installed on the roof of the cafeteria at Unity.)

    News reports at the time indicated that the students felt rebuffed. But a month later, then-Energy Secretary Steven Chu announced that the White House residence would get solar panels and a solar water heater by the start of summer 2011. That didn’t happen. On June 20, 2011, the Department of Energy said in a blog post that it would complete its “White House solar demonstration project” after the competitive procurement process had been completed.

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    If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for 15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to

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