Jimmy Carter was the first US president to put solar panels on the White House in 1979.
Back then, it was a symbolic gesture, a hope that this strange alternative energy would one day pan out.
“It can be just a small part of one of the greatest and most exciting adventures ever undertaken by the American people,” he said at the time.
Nearly four decades later, the promise of solar energy has arrived and Carter is taking full advantage of its potential.
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Earlier this year, he commissioned SolAmerica to create a solar farm on 10 acres of his land in his hometown of Plains, Georgia.
Today, that farm is supplying half of his town’s electricity needs. It’s expected to supply the 1.3 megawatts of electricity annually, the equivalent of burning 3,600 tons of coal.
And that’s not all.
Carter went ahead and had 324 solar panels installed on the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library, which will provide about 7% of the library’s energy.
“Distributed, clean energy generation is critical to meeting growing energy needs around the world while fighting the effects of climate change,” Carter said in a press release. “I am encouraged by the tremendous progress that solar and other clean energy solutions have made in recent years and expect those trends to continue."
Carter’s projects won’t power the world, but they show that individuals can invest in small ways to generate energy. Collectively, these individual projects have the potential to transform energy grids around the world.
The New Yorker recently reported on how decentralized solar grids in Sub-Saharan Africa are bringing electricity to millions of people and allowing the region to “leap-frog” fossil fuels, similar to how developing countries are using mobile phones to “leap-frog” telecommunications infrastructure.
Solar installations throughout the US, however, have recently stalled in the face of market saturation, financial difficulties among top distributors, and a powerful lobbying effort by utilities companies that are determined to slow down the pace of renewable energy because its less profitable than fossil fuels, according to The New York Times.
Many renewable advocates also worry that subsidies for renewable energy will be phased out, leading to higher prices.
Despite these setbacks, renewable energy remains a significant force in the US, employing people 12 times faster than the rest of the economy.
President Carter is known for his dedication to human rights throughout the world. His embrace of solar power is ultimately part of that same commitment.