When Larry Hagman, the actor who for 14 seasons played oil baron J.R. Ewing on the television show "Dallas," died last week, cultural critics lamented the passing of an American icon. They might also have mentioned that the solar industry lost one of its leading boosters.
Hagman, who played the role of a greedy, double-dealing oil tycoon, owned the largest private solar energy system in the nation. He served as a leading advocate for the solar power sector and, through his philanthropic work, promoted energy infrastructure improvements in poor communities around the world.
"I have nothing more to do with oil. I am producing my own energy -- solar energy," Hagman said in a television advertisement for SolarWorld, a Bonn, Germany-based solar system producer. The SolarWorld campaign was called "Shine, Baby, Shine" and took aim at the oft-repeated call, popularized by former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, to "Drill, baby, drill."
Hagman appeared in several TV advertisements for SolarWorld that aired in the United States and Europe. The actor always wore his signature wide-brimmed cowboy hat and played off his role as the evil Texas oilman.
"We are grateful to Larry Hagman for his commitment to building a solar world," Kevin Kilkelly, president of SolarWorld Americas, said in a statement. "His charisma and good example encouraged thousands of people to go solar. We will miss him, but we will always remember his talent and his dedication to the promise of solar energy."
Hagman also served on the board of directors for the Solar Electric Light Fund (SELF), a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit aimed at providing solar energy technologies to poor communities in Benin, Haiti, South Africa, Nigeria and the Amazon. SELF says it has installed 550 solar energy systems in 16 countries.
Actor with a wicked laugh lived in 'Heaven'
In a July 21, 2010, blog post, SELF Executive Director Bob Freling said of the actor's SolarWorld advertisements, "There's a sweet irony watching longtime SELF board member Larry Hagman turn the world-renowned oil tycoon J.R. Ewing into a conscientious solar executive while retaining his famously wicked laugh."
He added, "Serving on SELF's board since 2000, Larry walks the talk. In 2003, he installed what is surely the largest residential solar system in the United States, if not the world, at his hilltop home in Ojai, Calif., north of LA."
The Ojai estate covers 43 acres and is called "Heaven." It includes seven bedrooms and 10 bathrooms; a helipad; a 40-foot saltwater swimming pool with retractable roof; a two-bedroom, two-bathroom guest house; and separate office facilities.
The California Public Utilities Commission and the Solar Electric Power Association certified that the Hagman estate was, indeed, the largest residential solar panel system in the United States with 102.7 kilowatts of generation capacity, which could produce 150,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity each year.
Writing for his website, on a page titled "Larry Goes Green," Hagman outlined the changes he thought necessary for producing and distributing electricity in ways that could improve human societies.
"We have the power to make changes every day. The only things any of us truly have in this world are the decisions we make," he said. "Our time is short to make these changes, but I'm heartened by the increased interest these last few years have brought."
He added, "We may just make it yet."