In 1891, President William Harrison had electric lights installed in the White House when electricity was “barely a decade old.”
Flash forward to 1979. On 20 June, President Jimmy Carter dedicated 32 solar thermal panels that had been installed on the West Wing roof, saying: “I’ve arranged for this ceremony to be illuminated by solar power.”
There is no longer any question that solar energy is both feasible and also cost-effective… I am sending to the Congress legislative recommendations for a new solar strategy that will move our Nation toward true energy security and abundant, readily available energy supplies.
At the time, the United States imported about half of the oil used in the country. Our population: 225 million.
The installation in 1979 was symbolic in much the same manner as Harrison’s. It was, however, short-lived.
In 1986, the Reagan Administration removed them during its second term.
In the 1990s, the National Media Director for Greenpeace, Peter Dykstra, filed a FOIA request to find out what happened to the solar panels. They had been stored in a Washington, D.C. warehouse. The Jimmy Carter Library and Museum and the National Museum of American History would eventually acquire one of those solar panels for each of their permanent collections.
In 2003, President George W. Bush installed solar panels on “the roof of the main building used for White House grounds maintenance.”
Ten years later, President Barack Obama installed an unspecified number of “American-made solar panels.”
In 2016, President Carter leased 10 acres to SolAmerica. The land is now a solar farm that provides half of the power needed for his hometown, Plains, Georgia. In 2017, he also installed 324 solar panels on the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library.
Solar accounted for half of all new electricity-generating capacity added in the U.S. in the first quarter 2022.