“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 a small part of one of the greatest and most exciting adventures
ever undertaken by the American people; harnessing the power of the sun
to enrich our lives as we move away from our crippling dependence on
foreign oil.” - Jimmy Carter on the installation of solar panels on the White House in 1977
In a recent story published by the Atlantic titled "The Elusive Green Economy" (a must read), Josh Green vividly recalls a time in 1977 when a young Amory Lovins, who had just published an essay in Foreign Affairs called “Energy Strategy: The Road Not Taken?”, "argued that the country had arrived at an important crossroads and could take one of two paths." Lovins explained these paths as the first being one that "promised a future of steadily increasing reliance on dirty fossil fuels and nuclear fission that carried serious environmental risks", and the other which "favored “benign” sources of renewable power like wind and the sun, along with a heightened commitment to meeting energy demands through conservation and efficiency"
Green goes on in his article to explain that, "In 1977, the country appeared poised on the brink of a new age, with recent events having organized themselves in such a way as to make a clean-energy future seem tantalizingly close at hand." If you're like us, you're sitting there thinking to yourself that you know the ending of this story - and you do. In the past 30 years there has been little if any progress towards this clean-energy future. And if it's true that in 1977 we were on the brink of something big, we are dangerously further away from the brink now.
But we digress.
In his story, Green talks about the election of Jimmy Carter and Carter's decision to install solar panels on top of the White House, calling that action a peak in the hope for a clean energy future. It may be but a footnote in history, but it got us thinking. What ever happened to Jimmy Carter's solar panels? Are they still there?
If you answerd (a) to Carter's question in the quote that began this post, you were right. The solar panels are on display in the Jimmy Carter Library and Museum in Atlanta, Georgia. They were ordered removed by Ronald Regan when he took office. And for some 30 years now they have been an example of a road not taken. Sure it's only symbolism, and yes, since 2003 there have been solar panels on the White House again, but it sure does show you how little we've come since then.