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 his first 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.