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Why did US President Ronald Reagan rip down the solar 'hot water' panels on the White House?

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Nyree Millar-Bell's picture
Director, Millar-Bell Aviation Consultancy

My name is Nyree and i previously for 8 years at Edinburgh Airport as an Aerodrome Safeguarding & Incident Manager. This involved working closely with energy companies and developers to...

  • Member since 2021
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  • Jul 19, 2021

US President Jimmy Carter installed 32 solar thermal panels on the White House in 1979. He made the following statement:

"In the year 2000 this solar water heater, will still be here supplying cheap, efficient energy."

In 1986, US President Ronald Reagan ripped the solar panels down. They become objects of increasing indifference. The new administration did not like renewables and was a 'waste of space' and not 'cost effective'.

This weekend, I had the pleasure of learning more about Solar Farms.

It was great to talk about the pros of Solar Farms as well as some of the challenges that developers face.

We discussed the difficulty in securing planning permission. A main constraint was the public perception of solar panels.

Scottish developers are the 'Jimmy Carters' of today.

Education on climate change is critical and we can't let solar energy remain in the dark. The benefits outweigh perceptions.

Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Jul 19, 2021

The new administration did not like renewables and was a 'waste of space' and not 'cost effective'.

Frustrating that 'cost effective' is the argument used to tear down-- the bulk of the costs are in installations, which was already done, so all this was was as symbolic posturing move that actually cost the White House (aka tax payers) more to tear down than it would have to continue to maintain them and reap the benefits. 

Mark Silverstone's picture
Mark Silverstone on Jul 19, 2021

A lot of water under the bridge in 40 years. What stands out to me is the foresight on the part of Jimmy Carter.

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Jul 19, 2021

Mark, I don't believe Carter has any investments in oil. All the big oil producers (Royal Dutch Shell, included) had the foresight to recognize the deceptively-wholesome promise of solar energy, combined with its meager, intermittent generation, would guarantee gasoline and natural gas an unlimited role in global energy. That's why natural gas and renewables are best friends!

Propaganda portal "Energy in Depth", hosted by the Independent Petroleum Producers of America, even tries to twist Michael Shellenberger's anti-renewables viewpoint to support solar:

Michael Shellenberger, head of the Oakland-based environmental think tank Breakthrough Institute, states that the rejection of natural gas by celebrities and other activists is deeply flawed. Says Shellenberger:

“It demonstrates the ignorance of renewable power advocates to suggest that renewables can run without gas. We don’t get to say, ‘I only want solar and wind.'”

Shellenberger, a personal friend, believes gas is the millstone around the neck of renewables - they sink any potential renewables have for decarbonization to the bottom of the energy river (and I agree).

Audra Drazga's picture
Audra Drazga on Jul 19, 2021

I would love to hear more about the Pro's and cons. 

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Jul 19, 2021

Why did US President Ronald Reagan rip down the solar 'hot water' panels on the White House?

Because they were symbols of ineffectual "green" technology, useless except or warming some of the water used in the White House cafeteria and laundry.

Despite popular misperceptions, they never generated one kWh of electricity.

Whether they saved any energy at all is debatable - water was pumped up the roof of the White House night and day, whether the sun was shining or not. The energy wasted pumping water at night was probably multiples of what was harvested from the sun as heat.

In 1979, convinced of the usefulness of solar power, Carter predicted that by 2000 twenty percent of U.S. energy would be provided by the sun. Though he was spectacularly wrong (if progress with solar continued at the same pace, his goal wouldn't be met for 850 years into the future), interest in solar energy mysteriously continues to this day. 

Jim Stack's picture
Jim Stack on Jul 20, 2021

Pretty simple answer. Because he is a politician . They get influenced by many groups and don't listen to the little people.   

Nyree Millar-Bell's picture
Thank Nyree for the Post!
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