Recently a movement to have President Obama put solar power back on the White House roof has gained steam, which is kind of ironic since the panels that President Jimmy Carter installed back in 1979 were not photovoltaic (PV) panels but rather solar water heating panels. Now a coordinated effort, led by 350.org and Sungevity are gathering signatures to put solar power back on the White House.
On Sept. 9 the 350.org campaign reached Washington, D.C. with one of Carter’s solar hot water panels, which has since been refurbished. And members of 350.org’s Put Solar Back on the White House campaign are set to meet with the White House tomorrow (Sept. 10).
Unfortunately President Reagan took the panels down in 1976 when he refurbished the White House roof. The panels resurfaced on the roof of Maine’s Unity College and one even made its way to China.
However, the National Park Service put solar panels on the White House grounds during president George W. Bush’s reign. But 350.org spokesperson Jamie Henn told CEA that “the panels on the White House now are not on the roof.” And Henn said the campaign’s mission is to put solar panels on the residence’s roof itself, rather than just the ground.
“It’s different than getting them up on the roof to make a real statement about renewable energy,” she said.
In 2003, the National Park Service installed a 167 panel, 9 kilowatt (kW) PV array on a White House maintenance shed’s roof, which has since supplied electricity for the grounds.
“But the Park Service and the Solar Energy Industries Association [i.e. SEIA], a trade association, agreed the projects are small,” according to a 2003 Washington Post article. And Bush never publicized the panels.
"I think the symbolic nature of this exceeds the actual kilowatts produced," said SEIA spokesperson Michael Paranzino to the newspaper.
Today’s push is to put meaningful renewable energy production on the White House. Danny Kraus, a spokesperson for Sungevity, explained to CEA that the company realizes solar already is on the White House grounds.
“But it's token at best and not done in a way that makes a true impact,” said Kraus. “It's certainly not the leading example we're looking for to inspire the nation.”
Sungevity has offered to install a 17.86 kW PV array on the White House’s roof, which the company said will produce 81 percent of the building’s energy needs. The company would donate the $107,900 up-front payment for such a system. Or, if the president chose to lease it, it would cost $537 a month, which Sungevity compared to the estimated $1,610 a month the White House spends for 81 percent of its electricity.
Pictured: Sungevity was nice enough to lend us its mock-up of the proposed solar panel array at the White House.