Following 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