Race to Outfit White House With Solar Begins

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After some intense lobbying by solar energy advocates, White House is making room for solar. In a blog post, Energy Secretary Steve Chu said solar panels and a solar water heater system will rise from the White House roof by the end of the Spring.

The installations will be part of a demonstration project by the U.S Department of Energy to showcase American technology, Chu said. “The project will show that American solar technology is available, reliable, and ready to install in home throughout the country. Around the world, the White House is a symbol of freedom and democracy. It should also be a symbol of America’s commitment to a clean energy future,” he wrote.

The DOE will pick the systems through a competitive process, said spokeswoman Jen Stutsman. The size of the solar panel systems could run between 5-kilowatt to 15-kilowatt, she said. The solar water heater system will likely occupy 150 square feet of the roof.

The last time solar panels lined the White House roof was when Jimmy Carter was president in the 1970s. Carter’s solar panels sat on the roof of the Oval Office and heated water for use in the White House kitchen, said the Smithsonian, which has one of the solar panels.  President Ronald Reagan removed the panels during his administration.

President George W. Bush also embrace solar, but apparently didn’t publicize it. Bush installed three solar electric and heating systems for, among other things, warming the White House pool. It was the National Park Service that decided to add solar, and the installations included crystalline silicon solar panels from Evergreen Solar in Massachusetts. The solar panels went up on the roof of a maintenance building, however, not the White House itself.

President Obama won’t be breaking new ground by going solar, and until the announcement today, he’d faced growing pressure from solar industry advocates to install solar energy systems on the roof of the White House to show a personal commitment to clean energy. Lobbying efforts have sprouted up from several groups, including the Solar Energy Industries Association and 350.org, which focuses on global warming issues. SEIA’s CEO Rhone Resch said he asked Obama to install solar at the White House when he met the president at an Earth Day ceremony earlier this year. Sungevity, an installer in Oakland, Calif., created an online petition and offered a free solar electric system.

Chu didn’t provide details about what types of solar panels and water heating system will be the showcase technologies at the White House.

The technologies, of course, will come from American companies, which can range from manufacturing giants such as First Solar and SunPower to many startup companies in Silicon Valley. Solyndra, which has gotten a $535 million federal loan to build a factory in California, could also be a contender. Given the project’s location and place in the history of clean energy, you can expect a lot of lobbying efforts from manufacturers and installers to take part.

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