Big news out of the White House on the solar energy front the past few days. First there’s the news that the Obama administration will install solar on the White House (both thermal for hot water and PV for electricity). Then in today’s NY Times there’s a front page article about how the Obama administration has approved using federal lands for huge solar farms.
The White House solar installation is largely symbolic but a welcome gesture, especially after the slightly sour episode where the administration (rightly) rejected activist Bill McKibben’s offer to reinstall one of Jimmy Carter’s ancient solar panels on the White House. But Obama’s gesture is still important as his first concrete, unambiguous support for solar energy.
Approving federal lands for giant solar farms is an even bigger deal. One of the proposed projects is for a 709-megawatt solar farm using Suncatchers (basically large solar dishes) to run engines that produce electricity. Today’s largest solar farms generate something in the range of 70 MW, so we’re talking about a giant step up, if the proposed project actually happens.
Obama setting aside federal land for solar is something akin to what’s happened in Germany and China, where government policy has pushed solar and other renewable technologies (as well as a massive buildup of fossil fuel-based power plants in China) to new heights and helped create a global market for solar panels. The U.S. is late to the game, but this could be a sign that it’s finally attempting to catch up.
You can read more about my thoughts on solar energy and other renewables, and about my book-in-progress on renewable energy, at www.renewablebook.com.