A moment in the Sun
December 12, 2018
Unity College’s “Jimmy Carter” solar panels appear at Science Museum in London as part of the largest exhibition about the Sun ever staged
The Sun: Living With Our Star, a new exhibition at London’s Science Museum, features golden solar religious artifacts dating back to 1400 B.C., all the way to details about upcoming NASA and ESA solar missions, telling guests the story of our dependence on and understanding of our star. The exhibition includes solar panels from the 1970s era White House, and runs through May 6, 2019. The path of the White House solar panels may not date back to the B.C. era, but it is more circuitous than some might imagine, and it runs right through Unity College.
In 1979, Jimmy Carter installed 32 solar panels on the White House, designed to use the Sun as an energy source to heat hot water. In 1986, the panels were dismantled and placed in storage, and by 1991, they had been largely forgotten. It was then that Peter Marbach, Unity College’s director of development at the time, stumbled across a photo of the out-of-use panels in a magazine and decided to give them a second life, picking up the panels in a beat-up blue bus, having them refurbished and placed atop the College’s cafeteria roof where they heated water.
The panels were removed from the cafeteria roof in 2010 when they had reached their useful lifespan, but Unity College students along with Bill McKibben, author, environmentalist, and founder of 350.org, took a “solar road trip” from Unity College to Washington, D.C., with one of the Carter solar panels in an attempt to prompt President Barack Obama to re-install solar and return the United States to Carter’s vision for widespread renewable energy development. Though the Obama administration initially declined to put solar panels back on the White House, they reversed that decision shortly after meeting McKibben.
Through the years, the Jimmy Carter solar panels have been featured in various museums across the world, as well as in the documentary “The Road Not Taken,” and now some of the panels have a new home in London’s Science Museum as part of the largest exhibition on the Sun ever assembled.
“These panels not only have a special place in the history of Unity College, but for the entire country and the world, given that forty years ago they represented the future for sustainability,” said Unity College President Dr. Melik Peter Khoury. “Unity College has been a leader in sustainability education as long as it has existed. As demonstrated by the story of these solar panels, we have always worked hard to lead the way, and that will never change.”
“Technological solutions to harness the Sun’s energy will always be among the strategies on the path to sustainability,” added Jennifer deHart, Unity College’s Chief Sustainability Officer. “The College is proud of our unique ability to help display these technologies to learners of all ages, all over the world.”
“Since people first looked up at the sky the Sun has been a source of fascination, awe and inspiration and I am sure that this exhibition will delight, inspire and amaze visitors of all ages,” said Ian Blatchford, Director of the Science Museum. “The Sun: Living With Our Star will take people on a richly visual and action-packed adventure filled with remarkable stories, people and artifacts.”