They are perhaps the most famous solar panels ever made- installed on the roof of the White House by President Jimmy Carter, who said at the time in 1979:
In the year 2000 this solar water heater behind me, which is being dedicated today, will still be here supplying cheap, efficient energy…. 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.
And, as he was with most things, Jimmy Carter was right, they are a museum piece. The panels supplied hot water for domestic purposes and for laundry, but were removed in the Reagan administration, ostensibly because roof repairs were needed but also, according to mechanical engineer Fred Morse, quoted in Scientific American,
"We had a new administration that really did not like renewables very much. I don't know if you remember those days when it was called alternative energy and there was something about 'alternative' that did not sit very well." So when the time came to resurface the roof, the panels were taken down. "It was working fine, but the decision was it was not cost-effective."
It then became part of a lovely story as the panels were installed at Unity College in Maine in 1990, as a way of bringing attention to the school's mission of environmental education. They certainly succeeded at that; there was even a movie made about them, A Road not Taken.
© Himin Solar Valley