Thursday, January 22, 2009

Back to the energy future

(Cross-posted from the Official Google Blog)

In 1979 President Jimmy Carter installed 32 solar hot water panels on the roof of the White House. Recently a Googler from our Washington D.C. office asked the question, "What ever happened to the Carter panels?" After a little digging, we were able to track down the original panels to Unity College, an environmental college in Maine, and bring one of them back to Washington D.C.

So what ever happened to the panels? It turns out that during President Reagan's administration the solar hot water panels were removed from the White House in 1986 and placed in storage. In 1992, Unity College located the panels and transferred them from a General Services Administration warehouse to their campus in Maine. After restoration,16 panels provided their cafeteria with hot water for the next 12 years. In cooperation with Unity College, Google was able to bring one of these panels down to our Washington DC office for display throughout the next year.

At the panels' dedication in 1979, Jimmy Carter stated:

"This dependence on foreign sources of oil is of great concern to all of us. 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." (To watch video of the dedication, check out this trailer for a movie about the panels).

As we welcome our new U.S. president to office this week, we wanted to share this piece of this history with you. Google is committed to a clean energy future and we hope that you will join us in supporting the creation and adoption of renewable energy technology — what could still be one of the greatest and most exciting adventures for all of us.

Check out these photos of the panels at Unity College and at Google's Washington DC office.


KenEvoy said...

The sad part is that has indeed become a museum piece, one of the roads Jimmy Carter foresaw -- he didn't have the leadership ability to make this a "we-will-put-a-man-on-the-moon mission." The U.S. chose the wrong road due to many bad reasons, all well documented in Tom Friedman's latest book (Hot, Flat and Crowded).

The exciting part is the the new administration gets it... smart grid, wind, sun, and hopefully, a breakthrough technology. Now, more than ever, we have stop pouring CO2 into our atmosphere and we have to stop paying hundreds of billions of dollars to dictatorships dedicated to our downfall.

The MOST exciting part is that the current president has the raw leadership power to make it happen.

The most important part is that time has run out.

All the best,

Hiawatha said...

Mr. Obama has taken very strong positions on a number of issues of concern to all of us. He is not the only one who has done so, and a fast pass through:,, and may supply some interesting insights.

rlronparypa said...

Do you suppose there is an analytical message in the story of the solar panels that never stayed where they were placed?

Jimmy told all of America that these panels were the wave of the future. I was designing and building energy systems for high end homes during that time. Using 30 year life cycle analysis I quickly eliminated solar water heating as a non-starter. The rest of America made the same decision in the following 10 years, the government subsidies disappeared, and existing systems proved to be maintenance nightmares. Oh, yes, the then "oil crisis" disappeared.

Many respond to economic analysis as the right way to evaluate energy decisions by saying that "money does not account for the human element" or "it does not account for mother earth." That is great theater, but it forgets the simple truth that money measures the use of energy and resources. Hence, higher life cycle cost means higher energy and resource use.

The other lesson from Jimmy Boy's solar panel is that a single government policy solution is extremely dangerous. If the government is wrong, we do not have an alternative. If you leave individuals to the selection of a system you get nearly infinite alternatives, thus very low risk to society.

Beware of group think and legislated solutions. Imagine if Google had been legislated instead of created!

Jacob said...

why take them off? that is green energy