Obama to Return Solar Panels to White House, Chu Says

President Barack Obama will have solar panels put back on the roof of the White House to demonstrate that renewable-energy technology is practical for U.S. homeowners, Energy Secretary Steven Chu said.

“The White House will lead by example,” Chu said today at a conference in Washington. A solar-water heater will be installed in addition to photovoltaic panels to generate electricity, which will be in place by the end of June, he said. “It’s been a long time since we’ve had them up there.”

President Jimmy Carter had solar panels installed on the White House’s West Wing 31 years ago. They were taken down under Carter’s successor, Ronald Reagan. Solar-energy advocates have pressed Obama to return panels to the executive mansion as a symbol of his commitment to renewable energy. The panels and heater will be atop Obama’s private residence in the East Wing.

“Putting solar on the roof of the nation’s most important home is a powerful symbol calling on all Americans to rethink how we create energy,” Rhone Resch, president of the Solar Energy Industries Association, a Washington-based trade group, said in a statement.

The Energy Department said in a statement that it will hold competitive bidding to choose the company that will install the solar systems.

U.S.-Made Panels

Asked whether the panels on the White House roof must be made in the U.S., Stephanie Mueller, an Energy Department spokeswoman, said in an e-mail that the criteria for the winning bidder will include “how well it showcases American technology, products and know-how.”

The U.S. has fallen behind China and European countries such as Germany in renewable energy. Asia makes more than half the world’s wind and solar energy equipment and is widening its lead. China invested $34.5 billion in low-carbon energy technologies last year, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance. The U.S. spent $18.6 billion.

Chu said today that the U.S. is on course to meet Obama’s goal of doubling manufacturing capacity for renewable energy by 2012. Obama has failed to win passage in Congress of legislation to create a cap-and-trade system limiting carbon emissions or to establish national standards for the use of renewable energy.

Thomas Pyle, president of the Institute for Energy Research, a free-market analysis group in Washington, said the rooftop panels will underscore hostility by Obama toward fossil fuels such as coal.

‘Ineffective, Expensive’

Solar energy is “ineffective, expensive and unreliable and will continue to be in our lifetimes and probably our children’s lifetimes and beyond,” Pyle said in an interview.

The panels will mark the first time solar energy has been used for the private residence of the White House, according to the White House Council on Environmental Quality. Carter’s panels were above offices and used for hot water, not electricity.

Under President George W. Bush, the National Park Service installed solar photovoltaics and a solar hot-water heater on smaller White House facilities near the main building.

Bill McKibben, an environmental activist who met with administration officials and led rallies calling for Obama to return solar panels to the White House, said today the administration “listened to the Americans who asked for solar on their roof, and they listened to the scientists and engineers who told them this is the path to the future.”

The symbolism of solar energy in use at the White House may lead to an “upsurge in business,’” Danny Kennedy, co-founder of closely held Sungevity Inc., a solar company based in Oakland, California, said in an interview today. Sungevity led a “Solar on the White House” campaign earlier this year.

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