About the SA Blog Network



Opinion, arguments & analyses from the editors of Scientific American
Observations HomeAboutContact

White House to get (more) solar panels

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

Email   PrintPrint

jimmy-carter-solar-thermal-panelFollowing the lead of presidents from George W. Bush to Jimmy Carter, the Obama White House—or specifically the Obama family’s living quarters—will get solar panels. While Carter’s solar thermal panels are long gone (one of them is in China and the Obama White House last month rebuffed the return of another), photovoltaics installed by President Bush the Younger grace some of the other buildings on the White House grounds and, like most solar panels in the U.S., provide enough electricity to heat the pool, among other uses. But in the spring of 2011 a new solar hot-water heater and array of solar cells will begin producing some of the hot water and electricity consumed by the first family.

“By installing solar panels on arguably the most famous house in the country, his residence, the president is underscoring that commitment to lead and the promise and importance of renewable energy in the United States," said Nancy Sutley, chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, in a statement announcing the plans.

The announcement kicks off a "competitive" bidding process led by the U.S. Department of Energy to provide the technology. Already, some solar companies have offered their technology for free—in light of the public relations value of supplying solar to the home of the President. Of course, the vast majority of solar photovoltaics and solar hot water heaters are made in China.

The Obamas are already harvesting the power of the sun in other ways: First Lady Michelle Obama has a garden on the White House grounds. And the Obama administration has given loan guarantees to would-be American manufacturers of solar technology, such as Solyndra. It remains to be seen if these solar panels will beat the endurance record set by their predecessors: Carter’s solar panels stayed on the roof for just seven years before the Reagan Administration took them down.

Credit: © David Biello

Rights & Permissions

Comments 7 Comments

Add Comment
  1. 1. JamesDavis 7:01 am 10/6/2010

    At least it’s a start, and this time the PV’s may stay there longer if we can keep the Republicans out of office. I don’t know what they have against breathing clean air, drinking clean water, and living on clean non-polluted soil, but whatever there problem is, it is very destructive to this country and they should be kept out of power for as long as it takes to return our planet to a place to live on instead of a place to exploit.

    Link to this
  2. 2. Soccerdad 12:09 pm 10/6/2010

    The example of the Obama’s "harvesting the power of the sun" by giving loan guarantees to solar companies is more akin to them harvesting the taxpayer’s money.

    But I think it’s great that the Obama’s can take credit for utilizing solar power without having to worry about whether the economics support the project. Unfortunately everyone else does.

    Link to this
  3. 3. sethdayal 1:22 pm 10/6/2010

    The solar hot water and space heating is like an excellent example. Solar PV is just a political publicity scam.

    Link to this
  4. 4. drafter 3:41 pm 10/6/2010

    JD did you not read the article. President Bush did install panels on buildings. Secondly President Bush’s home has all of the sustainable features that Gore proposes we do but doesn’t himself.

    Link to this
  5. 5. Trent1492 8:35 pm 10/6/2010


    It must be nice to mindlessly repeat lies.

    Al Gore’s house is Gold Certified by LEED standards.

    Fact Check:

    Link to this
  6. 6. TTLG 2:00 pm 10/7/2010

    Did I read this right? Using PV’s to heat a pool!? No wonder the government cannot create a sensible energy policy.

    Link to this
  7. 7. Keller 4:04 pm 10/7/2010

    What a monumental waste of the taxpayer money. There is essentially no payback on the investment because of the high-cost and dismal amount of incoming solar radiation. This is easily verified using the governments own calculational methods – see "Solar" model on the Department of Enery’s National Engineering Test Lab web site

    Looks like Obama is indeed the black Jimmy Carter.

    Link to this

Add a Comment
You must sign in or register as a member to submit a comment.

More from Scientific American

Email this Article