At the beginning of June, rumors started to trickle out from the White House and Republican leaders that President Donald Trump, a self-proclaimed booster of coal, had suggested something strange for his border wall: solar panels. Trump himself publicly touted the idea on June 21, during a rally in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, as a way that the proposed wall — which would cost upwards of $18 billion — could become more economically palatable.
“We’re thinking about building the wall as a solar wall, so it creates energy, and pays for itself,” Trump said, adding, “Pretty good imagination, right? Good? My idea.”
Now, one architect is threatening to take Trump to court over that claim, arguing that the president stole his idea for a solar wall and attempted to pass it off as his own.
“This is very, very disappointing that the person in charge of the entire country, who will expect to uphold the law, would in fact not provide credit to some work that was done for him,” Vijay Duggal, an architect based in New York, told ThinkProgress. “If he was a gentleman, he would have said that I was the man that has proposed this idea. It’s more important for him to claim the idea.”
Duggal said that he first had an idea for a solar border wall when he heard Trump on the campaign trail suggesting the idea of a wall between the United States and Mexico. To Duggal, the concept of a border wall seemed like a “useless idea,” and so he began to think about ways that the project could provide unique benefits to border communities and the country at large.
He says that he began studying the potential for a wall along the southern border to provide energy through solar power, and he created a concept for a wall that would best obtain solar energy at the latitude of the U.S.-Mexico border, calculating the precise angle at which that the panels would need to be installed, and figuring out how to create a wall that features angled solar panels that would still be impenetrable.
Duggal claims that he sent his resulting design to the White House in early February of 2017, just a few weeks after Trump’s inauguration. He also claims to have sent his design to representatives in Congress — including majority and minority leaders — as well as several prominent members of Trump’s cabinet. Duggal says he never heard back from anyone about his designs, except for the Department of Energy, which sent him a notice to let him know that his design had been received.
On March 6, Duggal filed a provisional patent — seen by ThinkProgress — for his solar border wall concept with the U.S. Patent Office. Three months later, Duggal was surprised to see a story in Axios claiming that Trump had told Congressional leaders that he had personally come up with an idea for putting solar panels on the border wall.
“You can disclose it as long as you claim that this was my idea,” Duggal said. “He was very particular that credit be given to him.”
For months, Duggal wondered how to proceed. As Congress shifted its focus to healthcare, he says that he thought the border wall issue was “dead.” But now, with a government shutdown looming over immigration policy, Duggal has seen the wall once again become a central political issue.
Though Duggal says he plans to take Trump to court over patent and trademark infringement, he has yet to obtain legal representation. Because Duggal’s patent is still provisional, and because other firms have also claimed credit for creating the idea of a solar border wall, it’s unclear how strong Duggal’s case would be if he were to proceed to court.
There are other issues associated with the concept of a solar border wall — namely, of the eight construction prototypes currently under consideration by the administration, none appear to be a solar wall. And, because less than 2 percent of the U.S. population currently lives within 40 miles of the border, analysts have also questioned the feasibility of a solar border wall, arguing that it would require expensive power lines to connect the wall to communities that could use the power it generates.
Still, Duggal hopes that his idea could be used to bridge the immigration debate currently roiling in the halls of Congress — a border wall that both sides can agree on.
“This is a positive side of the story. This can resolve the central issue that is at debate at the moment,” Duggal said.