The White House will soon be one of the newest — and certainly most high profile — home in D.C. with solar panels.
A White House official confirmed to the Washington Post Thursday that installation had begun on fitting the President’s residence with solar panels, an effort the official said was “part of an energy retrofit that will improve the overall energy efficiency of the building.” The panels will be American-made, though the official did not confirm which company they would be purchased from.
The Obama administration announced in Oct. 2010 that it would install 20 to 50 solar panels on the residence after a campaign headed by 350.org and solar company Sungevity urged the president, along with other world leaders, to add solar panels to government buildings.
On Thursday, 350.org leader Bill McKibben commended the president on the move, despite the nearly three years it took for installation to begin.
“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,” McKibben said. “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.”
Jimmy Carter installed 32 solar panels on the White House roof when he was president in the late 1970s. When Ronald Reagan took office in 1981, one of hisfirst actions as president was to have the panels, which his chief-of-staff allegedly said Reagan felt were “just a joke,” removed. The panels ended up at Unity College in Maine, where they were installed on the roof of the school’s cafeteria.
But as famous as the Carter installation — and subsequent Reagan removal — was, it was George W. Bush administration that installed the first active solar electric system at the White House (Carter’s panels were largely symbolic, though they were used for heating water). In 2002, multiple solar grids were installed on the White House grounds. The installation was done quietly, with far less fanfare than Carter’s, but the panels provided energy to several White House operations. According to a New York Times article from 2003, “a grid of 167 solar panels on the roof of a maintenance shed has been delivering electricity to the White House grounds. Another solar installation has been helping to provide hot water. Yet another has been keeping the water warm in the presidential pool.”
It’s unclear still how much power the Obama administration’s solar panels will provide to the White House, but the White House official said the panels will help which will help “demonstrate that historic buildings can incorporate solar energy and energy efficiency upgrades,” and that the panels are estimated to pay for themselves in energy savings within eight years.
Obama pledged during his June climate speech at Georgetown University that the federal government would consume 20 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2020, and admittedly, 20 to 50 solar panels won’t contribute a substantial amount to that goal. But the administration’s decision to begin installation now is well-timed: a new report has found Americans who want to install solar power on their households are facing record-low costs, so Americans who might be inspired to install solar panels themselves can do so historically inexpensively.
A Brief History of White House Solar Panels
President Jimmy Carter installed 32 solar panels on the presidential mansion amid the Arab oil embargo, which had caused a national energy crisis. The Democratic president called for a campaign to conservative energy and, to set an example to the American people, ordered the solar panels erected in 1979, according to the White House Historical Association.
Carter predicted that “a generation from now, this solar heater can either be a curiosity, a museum piece, an example of a road not taken, or it can be a small part of one of the greatest and most exciting adventures ever undertaken by the American people; harnessing the power of the Sun to enrich our lives as we move away from our crippling dependence on foreign oil.”
2. 1981 – President Ronald Reagan Orders Solar Panels on the White House Removed
President Ronald Reagan took office in 1981, and one of his first moves was to order the solar panels removed. It was clear Reagan had a completely different take on energy consumption. “Reagan’s political philosophy viewed the free market as the best arbiter of what was good for the country. Corporate self-interest, he felt, would steer the country in the right direction,” the author Natalie Goldstein wrote in “Global Warming.”
George Charles Szego, the engineer who persuaded Carter to install the solar panels, reportedly claimed that Reagan Chief of Staff Donald T. Regan “felt that the equipment was just a joke, and he had it taken down.” The panels were removed in 1986 when work was being done on the White House roof below the panels.
3. 1992 – White House Solar Panels Moved to Maine College
Half of the solar panels that once generated energy at the White House were installed on the roof of the cafeteria at Maine’s Unity College, according to Scientific American. The panels were used to warm water in summer and winter.
President Barack Obama, who made environmental issues a focus of his presidency, planned to install solar panels on the White House by spring of 2011. He also announced he will also install a solar hot water heater on top of the living quarters at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.
“By installing solar panels on arguably the most famous house in the country, his residence, the president is underscoring that commitment to lead and the promise and importance of renewable energy in the United States,” said Nancy Sutley, chairwoman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality.
Administration officials said they expected the photovoltaic system will convert sunlight into 19,700 kilowatt hours of electricity a year.
- White House Finally Gets Solar Panels Again (fdlaction.firedoglake.com)
- American-made solar panels are being installed on the White House (mercurynews.com)
- Obama Administration Becomes The Third To Install Solar Panels On White House Grounds (thinkprogress.org)
- The White House goes solar – again (grist.org)
- White House installing solar panels on first family residence (reuters.com)
- Solar panels return to White House (thehill.com)
- White House gets solar panels (politico.com)