A Brief Modern History of Solar Power

It was President Jimmy Carter who first saw the value in utilizing photovoltaic cells to provide power to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. While largely symbolic at the time, (due to inefficiencies in the young technology), the array on the roof of the White House did serve to heat the building’s water supply. Citing that he believed them to be “a joke”, Carter’s successor, President Ronald Wilson Reagan had the solar panels removed in one of his first acts as president. While the expensive panels were not up to snuff for the Reagan White House, they soon found a home at Unity College in Maine.

Many believe, erroneously, that it was our current president, Barack Obama, who reintroduced solar power to the White House in 2013. While there was much fanfare to the unveiling of the multiple new solar panels on the White House grounds and roof, there was actually one other president who understood the value of solar power and brought the technology back to the People’s House. 

In 2002, with very little fanfare, (understandable for his position on carbon-based energy sources) George W. Bush had multiple solar panels installed on the grounds. The improvements in the technology from the Carter Administration to the early 2000’s was substantial enough that many of the power needs of the property were satisfied by the installation.

On This Day

Many do not realize the history that we have with solar power. In fact, it was on this day, August 31, 1955, that the General Motors “Sunmobile” was presented to the public at the General Motors Powerama Auto Show in Chicago, Illinois. Inventor and General Motors engineer, William Cobb was responsible for demonstrating the solar capturing capability of the 15-inch automobile. When you consider the short time of 60 years, it is impressive to understand how far we have come with solar power. In fact, job growth in the solar power industry now greatly outpaces that of the American coal industry. Solar, however, may not be the best source of power for automobiles today. Other technologies are being explored and utilized more effectively.

Eternity of the Sun

It’s not difficult to understand why we are looking more and more toward solar power for our day-to-day needs. As the cost of the technology continues to come in line with consumer’s ability to afford it, families and businesses are turning their attention to the sky for their increased power needs. An interesting story came out of St. Louis last year that highlighted that solar power can even benefit those who have crossed to the hereafter.

The New Mount Sinai Cemetery installed solar panels to provide power to one of their large public mausolea. When the solar panels were switched on, all of the power needs for the mausoleum were satisfied, from lighting to temperature control.

Speaking with the St. Louis Post Dispatch, cemetery board member, Dick Brickson stated, “Economically, we think it’s a wonderful thing. Ecologically, we think it’s a wonderful thing as well.”

“Our goal was to have a location that would be visible but not obtrusive,” Brickson said of the solar panels, the newest addition to the 52-acre Jewish cemetery in south St. Louis County.

“I think, and some other people think, it looks kind of space age,” said Daniel Brodsky, executive director of New Mount Sinai. “Despite the fact that we’re a 19th-century cemetery, we’re on the leading edge of technology.”

As we continue to embrace solar technology, it is certain that we will see more innovation in home, auto, and alternative structures that require a cleaner and more renewable source of power.

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