A Brief History of Electricity in the White House and Where It Stands Today
Today, as more and more focus and effort are put into preserving the global climate and establishing clean energy sources, it’s worth remembering how far things have come since the advent of electrical power. Though the White House wasn’t the first home in America to receive electricity, it was ahead of most – and it was certainly the most famous. Since then, several presidents have led the charge for cleaner energy – in the form of policy, yes, but also by implementing green technology in the White House itself.
Electricity Comes To Pennsylvania Avenue
Up until 1882, homes and public spaces in America were lit by oil and gas-powered lamps. Then along came Thomas Edison. Not long after Edison began large-scale production of his game-changing incandescent light bulbs, electric lamp posts were installed along sections of Pennsylvania Avenue. This was good news, as many parts of the famous street were riddled with crime in the wake of the Civil War.
It wasn’t until 1891 that electric lighting was installed in the White House. The Edison Company set up a coal-fired generator in the basement of an adjacent building, ran wires into the residence, converted gas light fixtures for electric use, and installed light switches. Then-President Benjamin Harrison and his wife Caroline were terrified of being electrocuted by this new and exotic technology, so they left the flipping of light switches to the domestic staff.
Capitol Hill’s Use of Solar Power and Thermal Energy
President Jimmy Carter, an ardent conservationist, was the first to utilize solar energy at the White House. In 1979, he had 32 solar panels installed on the roof of the residence. While this served the practical purpose of helping to heat the building’s water supply, it also served as a symbol for the development of green energy technologies.
In 2003, during George W. Bush’s first term, a solar-electric system and two solar-thermal systems were installed on the White House grounds to provide power and hot water to the grounds maintenance building and spa facilities. Barack Obama had solar-electric panels installed on the White House roof in 2013 to offset the First Family’s energy consumption.
Other Green Initiatives in the White House
Other presidents and lawmakers have made strides for a greener White House. Even as far back as 1964, Lyndon Baines Johnson became known as “Light Bulb Johnson” for his habit of walking the halls of the residence, switching off lights in unoccupied rooms to save energy and taxpayer money.
Over 30 years later, Bill Clinton introduced a “Greening of the White House” initiative. His plan sought to drastically reduce the energy consumption and emissions of federal government buildings with a series of changes and upgrades. Some of these upgrades included high-efficiency lightbulbs and HVAC systems, double-pane windows, and improved insulation, among other things.
Currently, the Capitol Power Plant (the primary source of power for the federal government) is undergoing a transition to natural gas-powered “cogeneration” – a process that significantly reduces emissions and increases operating efficiency – in the pursuit of cleaner energy.
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