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Solar Panels to Appear on White House in Spring 2011

by Adam Vaughan

In this June 20, 1979, file photo President Jimmy Carter, center, is surrounded by reporters and photographers as he inspected new White House solar hot water heating system located on the roof of the West Wing of the mansion, over the Cabinet Room. Photograph: Harvey Georges/AP (via The Guardian)

Solar panels will be installed on the White House roof a quarter of a century after they were removed by Ronald Reagan, the Obama administration said today.

A mix of solar thermal and photovoltaic panels will be fitted in spring 2011 to generate hot water and renewable electricity, said Nancy Sutley, chair of the Council on Environmental Quality, and energy secretary Steven Chu at a conference on how federal government can green up.

It will be the first time since 1986 that panels have sat on the White House, since Reagan removed a solar thermal system installed by Jimmy Carter. In 1979 Carter held a conference on the rooftop, showing off the 32 solar panels and his desire to reduce America's dependence on oil.

The move will come as a surprise to many green campaigners, after the White House apparently snubbed a request to install the technology from leading environmentalists last month.

"This project reflects President Obama's strong commitment to US leadership in solar energy and the jobs it will create here at home," Chu said. "Deploying solar energy technologies across the country will help America lead the global economy for years to come." The cost and size of the solar panels have not yet been announced.

The move by Obama's administration follows lobbying by green campaigners, who called on the president to reinstate solar on the White House and have been driving around the US in a biodiesel-powered van with one of the original panels installed by Carter.

Last month they visited the White House, which declined the symbolic request to fit the old panel. Neither did it commit to installing new panels.

Bill McKibben, who led the campaign, said he welcomed Obama's decision to fit new panels: "It's great news … he listened to the American people, who clearly want far more progress on energy than a paralyzed congress has provided. We'd rather have a climate bill, but under the circumstances it's a great win."

He also said in a statement: "Solar panels on one house, even this house, won't save the climate, of course. But they're a powerful symbol to the whole nation about where the future lies. And the president will wake up every morning and make his toast by the power of the sun (do presidents make toast?), which will be a constant reminder to be pushing the Congress for the kind of comprehensive reform we need."

This Sunday, as part of a 10/10/10 day of mass participation climate events around the world, the president of the Maldives will also be fitting solar. Mohamed Nasheed, whose low-lying island state is at risk from rising sea levels caused by a warming world, will install the panels donated by solar company Sungevity on his home.

This post originally appeared on The Guardian.

See also: Where Would We Be Now on Climate If Carter Had Won? | Alex Steffen, 4 Jan 08

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Good news.

It would be an interesting project to compare the relative efficiencies of the old and the new. (I believe Bill managed to get hold of the old panels)

Posted by: Tony Fisk on 6 Oct 10

I think this is a good first step in becoming less dependent on oil as a primary energy source. Obviously, we have a very long way to go but when the examples to follow start at the top, the dominoes are a lot more likely to fall. Hopefully this is only the first of many steps to become more self-sustainable on the energy front from this admistration. This is really only a baby step, but it's a step in the right direction.

Posted by: sgchamby on 9 Oct 10

I am surprised the Obama wasn't more proactive and why he need such a nudge.

I don't know if Carter was as forward thinking as he appears or if the oil crisis nudged him also into action but kudos none the less.

Why would Regan take them off? Seems like a strange message to send out.

Hopefully Obama's whole green industry thing isn't going to suffer as part of the austerity measures.

Free Solar Panels

Posted by: theGreenMan on 9 Oct 10

This is good news. By this, the White House sets a great example of how it should be. With all the environmental issues, using green energy is a big step for reducing your carbon footprint.

Posted by: Solar Power Wouter on 10 Oct 10

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