Solar Panels Return to the White House

It took President Obama three years to return solar panels to the rooftop of the White House, but the real saga began long before he took office.

Back in 2010, former Energy Secretary Steven Chu said that the administration would install between 20 and 50 solar panels. Despite the pledge, however, the White House did not respond to offers for free solar photovoltaic systems from companies such as Sungevity, according to Renewable Energy World.

Now, in 2013, President Obama has found new resolve to discuss climate change and a more resilient energy landscape. Earlier this summer, the president delivered a speech calling for stricter regulations on existing coal-fired power plants, more wind and solar generation on public lands, and more energy-efficient buildings in both the public and private sector.

At the time, he said the changes would start with the federal government, especially in the realm of improving energy efficiency; for instance, he called for new efficiency targets for federal buildings.

Obama is now taking that message back to his own home, installing solar PV as “part of an energy retrofit that will improve the overall energy efficiency of the building,” a White House official told the Washington Post.

Of course, this all goes back much further than Obama's time in office. President Ronald Regan removed solar panels in 1986 that Jimmy Carter had installed in 1979. President George W. Bush also put a solar array on a small building on the White House grounds in 2003 to help heat the pool.

“Better late than never—in truth, no one should ever have taken down the panels Jimmy Carter put on the roof way back in 1979,” Bill McKibben, director of the climate group 350.org, told the Washington Post. “But it’s very good to know that once again the country’s most powerful address will be drawing some of that power from the sun.”

Today, solar panels are 97 percent cheaper than they were when Carter was in office, but the U.S. still has far higher soft costs—such as permits for installation and interconnection fees—than some other countries, such as Germany.  

Although the panels are already being installed, there is no word yet on the final panel count or the total energy output. President Obama has pledged that 20 percent of the federal government’s energy use will be powered by renewables by 2020.

Photo: Chuck Kennedy

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