(Bloomberg News) 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 yesterday 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.
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.