White House goes solar, again


Nearly 30 years after U.S. President Ronald Reagan tore down the solar panels his predecessor, Jimmy Carter, had installed atop the White House, the presidential residence is again going solar.

The new photovoltaic system is nevertheless arriving somewhat late: current President Barack Obama announced back in 2010 his intention of installing new American-made solar panels at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

On Thursday, the White House confirmed that solar panels were being installed this week as part of a retrofit to "improve the overall energy efficiency of the building."

The White House has not identified the supplier or cost of the project, but officials have indicated the modules are made in the U.S. and said the array will demonstrate that historic buildings can incorporate solar energy and energy efficiency upgrades. The system is expected to amortize its costs in energy savings over the next eight years.

In 2010, then Energy Secretary Steven Chu announced the plan to install solar panels on the White House in the spring of 2011.

"This project reflects President Obama’s strong commitment to U.S. leadership in solar energy and the jobs it will create here at home," Chu said at the time. "Deploying solar energy technologies across the country will help America lead the global economy for years to come."

"Installing solar panels on the First Family’s official residence, arguably the most famous building in America, underscores the growing popularity of solar energy nationwide," said Rhone Resch, CEO of the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA).

"We applaud President Obama for, once again, leading by example. Today, solar is generating enough electricity to power more than 1.3 million American homes, and we’re extraordinarily proud to be adding the White House to this constantly-growing list," he added.

Carter was the first U.S. president to embrace solar power, having a solar water heating array installed atop the White House in 1979, a time when the nation was still reeling from the energy crisis that began with the OPEC oil embargo earlier that decade and intensified in the wake of the Iranian Revolution.

In 1986, however, the Reagan administration – having gutted the U.S. Department of Energy’s research and development budget for renewable energy and eliminated tax incentives for wind turbines and solar technologies – dismantled the White House’s solar installation.

Three presidential administrations later, George W. Bush installed a photovoltaic system on a maintenance building as well as two solar thermal units on the White House grounds in 2003, but the latest installation on America’s most famous residence is certain to increase public awareness about solar power generation.

The White House’s new photovoltaic system is expected to generate 19,700 kWh a year.