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White House goes solar, again

  Cartersolar More than two decades after President Ronald Reagan had a solar water heating system removed from the White House roof, President Barack Obama will become the first to use solar energy as a means for powering the first family's White House residence.

Plans to install solar panels and a solar hot water heater on the roof of the White House residence were announced Tuesday by Energy Secretary Steven Chu and Council on Environmental Quality Chair Nancy Sutley as part of an Energy Department effort to portray solar power as reliable.

Solar panels had once provided hot water for West Wing offices under Presidents Jimmy Carter and Reagan, but Reagan had the panels removed in the 1980s.

Since Obama's election, advocates of solar energy have hounded the administration to return solar to the White House. Earlier this year, a group led by environmentalist and author Bill McKibben unearthed one of the Carter-era panels, which were stored at Unity College near Bangor, Maine, and attempted to deliver it to the White House. White House officials agreed to meet with McKibben, but did not accept the panel.

An Oakland, Calif.-based solar sales company, Sungevity, had also launched a campaign urging the White House to install solar panels. The company estimated that installing enough solar equipment to generate roughly 80 percent of the energy consumed by the White House residence would cost $107,900 and would save roughly $1,610 in monthly utility costs.

On Tuesday, McKibben lauded the announcement as a victory for his group,, which has organized an international climate work day on Oct. 10 to bring attention to the ways that ordinary people can help preserve the environment.

“Even people who don't get global warming get solar panels,” McKibben said. “This is just the kind of message we're trying to get across, that there's some connection between political change and physical change in your community, your house.”

The announcement was timed to coincide with the one-year anniversary of the president's signing of an executive order that directed federal agencies to set policies aimed at conserving energy and curbing greenhouse gas emissions.

“President Obama has said the federal government has to lead by example in creating opportunity and jobs in clean energy,” Sutley, who was deputy mayor for energy and environment for the city of Los Angeles before joining the Obama administration in 2009, said in a statement.

-- Kim Geiger, Tribune Washington Bureau

Photo: President Carter unveils solar panels on the White House. Source: Associated Press

Comments () | Archives (8)

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Scott J, You also must ask yourself, How much polution was generated and how much fossil fuel was needed in producing the solar panels? I am for clean energy, but I am also a realist. It must be econically and ecologically fisable.
For example the Toyota Prius, it makes more pollution to manufacture than a Hummer will produce its entire life! Also solar panels in the south west is great, but in the north east wind would be more feasible, or a combination of both!

A couple comments on the previous commenters.

1. Solar photo voltaic panels on a persons home or office is usually "Grid-Tie" which means that it augments the power the building uses from the grid. At the very least, it slows the power meter down, and in cases where solar output exceeds demand, the meter runs backwards, and the power company credits the customer for energy delivered to the grid.

2. For larger solar electric utility size installations, there are a variety of innovations that are applicable to solar and wind power generation. For one very good example, see the Bonneville Power Administration project that uses water heaters to store excess energy from wind and solar generators. To see the article, click on my name below, and at my blog, type "water heater" into the search box.

We are in the early days of innovating renewable energy. There are lots of good things going on and like computers and cell phones, it will continue to get better and cheaper.

Jay Kimball

This is great, and long overdue.

Now, how about the rest of us? Where are our PACE loans and feed in tariffs, Obama???

WE all want to install solar panels and be paid for producing more clean power than we use, so let's get moving on the ONLY policy that has ever democratized or decentralized the power grid - GERMAN STYLE FEED IN TARIFFS!

Don, when the savings are noted in dollars, you do not get to discount them by capacity factor. They are dollars, not production (kWh) figures.

I am unsure if the numbers cited are correct, since they are a guesstimate with a lot of variables, but it is ENTIRELY possible for a "high end user" like the WH to knock a LOT off the top tiers of their bill (assuming they pay incrementally more as their usage increases). That is exactly the system "net metering" was set up for.

Also, you can count on at least 30 if not 40 years of very high production from today's solar panels. They last and last, you only have to replace the inverters ($1,000) every 10 years or so, so assuming energy prices increase each year (not a stretch), and assuming the system is paid off in offsets in the first 9-10 years (very conservative estimate, probably shorter), that means a NET SAVINGS OF about a million bucks.

A million bucks for free. So what took them so long??? And WHY AREN'T WE GETTING THIS CHANCE?

Chevron Solar and Tessera just got approved for BILLIONS of our taxpayer dollars to kill THOUSANDS of our taxpayer-owned acres to install HUNDREDS of MW of desert solar we neither want nor need, while our homes, businesses, parking lots and brownfields BAKE AND SPRAWL with NO SOLAR????

The taxpayer and ratepayer money being wasted on Imperial Solar plus the new Sunrise Powerlink (the new transmission line) could have installed FULL rooftop systems on half a million CA homes and all 500,000 families could have had free power for 40 years. Instead, we get much higher energy bills and a bunch of dead wilderness and species. Gee, thanks?

People, if you want a shot at saving money, ecosystems, water, property values, jobs or the planet, you MUST start fighting for PACE loans and feed in tariffs so we can all install rooftop solar and efficiency upgrades on our own properties! The default is that all our money goes to Chevron instead!!!

Well, here is another typical example of the government’s trade mark of wasting several thousand dollars to save a few cents.

A publicity stunt paid for by those who never will be able or want to afford the waste that is hyped by the environmental Nazis as “savings” is no longer needed. The cat got out of out of the sack with the climate gate and with the continual re-invention and re-naming of the AGW-religion.

What does 1 kWh cost and who was that wise man who removed those green, progressive, energy saving gadgets in the first place? Get that nuisance crap technology back on the top of the roof without charging us again! At least then the Energy Department can brag to be recycling!

I hope Obama gets what he wants. A Whitehouse closer to his favorite color black has been his dream since inauguration. Or have you ever seen white solar panes/collectors. If you ask me, it is a clandestine, ultimately racist project!

A great first step. About time they got around to reinstalling solar at the White House!

Re: Don WV's analysis: Don only addresses the immediate dollar cost of these solar panels to the White House utility bill. If we have learned anything in the last few decades, it is that there are also environmental and health costs to energy production. We should also be asking to what extent will these solar panels keep our air, water, and earth free from pollutants generated by fossil fuel combustion. Any analysis that excludes environmental/health costs is grossly inadequate.

(White House residence would cost $107,900 and would save roughly $1,610 in monthly utility costs.) If these figures are accurate, This would pay for itself in 6 years! The problem with solar and wind power is not constant. In reality wind and solar only produce 33 percent of the name plate power. So this being the case, they would save an average $531.00. So in 17 years before it will actually pay anything on the White House utilities. That is right, about the time they will need replaced!

Once again the White House is playing politics instead of making a serious attempt to address the issues of the day. Perhaps it's all they know how to do. Whatever the reason, that is why this administration is doomed to failure.


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