Solar Panels Return to the White House

“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 just a small part of one of the greatest and most exciting adventures ever undertaken by the American people.” So said President Jimmy Carter at the dedication ceremony for the 32 panels he had installed atop the White House in the summer of 1979. His comments proved prescient, as the panels ended up in the Carter Library, the Smithsonian and other places around the country that weren’t the roof of the presidential residence.

An attempt to reinstall the Carter solar panels on top of the White House was rebuffed earlier this year. However, the Energy Department announced yesterday that by the end of next spring, there will be solar panels and a solar hot water heater on the roof of the White House.

“These two solar installations will be part of a Department of Energy demonstration project,” said Steven Chu, the U.S. Secretary of Energy. “The project will show that American solar technology is available, reliable, and ready to install in homes throughout the country.”

Of course, the White House solar panels will be largely a symbolic step toward renewable energy. The U.S. presently invests $5 billion annually on energy research—around 15% of what China spent last year. During his 2008 campaign, President Barack Obama iterated a commitment to American leadership in solar technologies and the creation of green collar jobs. Some environmental groups have complained that the Obama administration hasn’t lived up to those promises. To counter these protests, the Energy Department has also promised increased Recovery Act funding for solar technologies, promising to double renewable energy generation capacity by 2012.

Photo: dcjohn

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