The White House Goes Solar

After months of petitioning by the solar industry and citizens, the government has agreed to install solar hot water panels and some photovoltaic (PV) on the White House, in Washington, DC.

An effort to put solar on The White House has been active for some time. has been a media partner of the SolarOnTheWhiteHouse campaign, organized by Sungevity, the solar blogger Solar Fred, Kaco, and others since April 2010. The campaign rounded up 50,000 signatures since it began.

Sungevity president Danny Kennedy and others met with members of the Obama Administration last April to ask them to consider installing solar on the nation’s most prominent residence.

In June of 1979, 32 solar hot water panels were installed on The White House by Jimmy Carter as a symbol of America’s commitment to developing renewable energy. The panels were removed from the House in 1986 after oil prices declined and the imperative had diminished.

Last month, author and founder Bill McKibben traveled with members of his organization to DC to urge Obama to consider re-installing solar on The White House. The group carried with them one of the original panels from the 1979 installation. They left DC without a commitment.

In another effort to install solar in high-profile places, Sungevity has been working with Republic of Maldives President Mohammed Nasheed to install solar panels on the roof of the Mulleeaage, the home of the Maldives President. The installation should be complete on Thursday.  President Nasheed decided to install the solar PV system donated by Sungevity in an effort to highlight how solar is a wise, affordable investment that can save money on energy bills, create jobs and combat the pollution causing climate change.  

President Nasheed Installs Solar on the Muleeaage from on Vimeo.

Up until now, the Obamas had not indicated that they were interested in putting solar on The White House. Today, however, the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) Chair Nancy Sutley and Energy Secretary Chu announced that the installation of solar PV and solar hot water panels on the roof of the White House Residence will indeed take place. The installations will be part of a DOE demonstration project aimed a showing the world that American solar technologies are available, reliable and ready for installation in homes across the country. According to the press release, “The PV system will convert sunlight directly to electricity. The solar hot water heater will have a solar collector facing the sun that will heat water for use in the White House residence. The Department of Energy will now begin a competitive procurement process to select the company responsible for the installations.”

Is isn’t likely that the panels on the White House will offset a large portion of the mansion’s energy use, but it is an “important symbolic step,” said Scott Sklar, president of The Stella Group, a strategic marketing and policy firm that works on distributed energy generation.

“As we enter the second decade of the 21st Century experiencing a horrific oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, a devastating natural gas explosion in California, death of 25 WV coal miners and kidnapped uranium miners in Niger – it’s time for the United States to reposition itself as a global leader in solar and the entire portfolio renewable energy and energy efficiency technologies critical to our economic and national security,” he said.

Rhone Resch, President and CEO of the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), who has solar panels on his own home, agrees that putting solar on the “nation’s most important roof is a powerful symbol calling on all Americans to rethink how we create energy.”

“It’s an example of how each one of us can improve energy security, employ Americans and cut energy costs. I can speak from personal experience that taxpayers will benefit. In the four years since I’ve had solar on my house, I’ve gotten a better return on my solar system than on my 401(k),” said Resch in a statement.

This announcement comes just one week before the start of the largest solar power show in the nation, Solar Power International, which will take place in Los Angeles, California from October 12-14.
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Jennifer Runyon has been studying and reporting about the world's transition to clean energy since 2007. As editor of the world's largest renewable energy publication, Renewable Energy World, she observed, interviewed experts about, and reported on major clean energy milestones including Germany's explosive growth of solar PV, the formation and development of the U.S. onshore wind industry, the U.K. offshore wind boom, China's solar manufacturing dominance, the rise of energy storage, the changing landscape for utilities and grid operators and much, much, more. Today, in addition to managing content on Renewable Energy World and POWERGRID International, she also serves as the conference advisory committee chair for DISTRIBUTECH, a globally recognized conference for the transmission and distribution industry. You can reach her at

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