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Finally, the White House Is Installing Solar on the Roof, But Will There Be Solar Thermal?


(photo via .gov website)


At long last, the White House has reportedly started to install “American-made solar panels” on the White House roof, along with other energy efficiency measures. It’s about time.

Free Hot Water has personally waited a long time for this announcement. In 2010, Free Hot water was part of a coalition of solar companies and solar advocates who offered to install solar on the White House at no cost. Free Hot Water offered a residential demonstration system, while solar leasing company Sungevity offered a large solar PV system.

However, the White House never officially responded to any of these offers or to Sungevity’s social media campaign until climate change activist Bill McKibben did a road trip and carried one of Jimmy Carter’s old White House solar collectors from Maine’s Unity College to the White House gates, demanding that it be reinstalled–or a new system installed. Initially, White House advisers politely declined McKibben’s demands. But then…

About a week later, then Secretary of Energy Steven Chu announced a conference that yes, indeed, solar PV and solar thermal demonstration projects would be installed on the White House by the end of spring 2011:



The solar industry celebrated…but spring 2011 came and went with no explanation or new timeline. Now, almost three years after the initial announcement, the White House is finally moving forward with the installation, but the question remains: Are they installing solar PV, solar thermal, or both?

Solar hot water is not new to the White House. As we’ve mentioned, President Jimmy Carter was the first president to put solar panels on the White House roof, but in 1986, President Reagan took them down “for repairs.” When they were never re-installed, Unity College asked and were given the collectors, where they worked very well for thirty years.

Also, under President George W. Bush, solar thermal collectors were installed on the White House grounds by the National Parks Department. Why? To save money on heating the White House pool and Jacuzzi. But President Bush chose to not publicize that solar installation, so it got very little press or promotion for the U.S. solar industry.

And so, my solar thermal friends, it’s 2013 and we once again have a chance to have an international symbol of solar thermal technology installed on the American White House. However, details of the installation are secret, so we don’t know if the roof will even include solar thermal collectors. 

If the White House roof does include solar thermal (again), then Free Hot Water expects and hopes that Mr. Obama will be actively promoting it and educating the American public. They could have a website as well as online solar thermal monitoring. This would be a huge boost for our American solar thermal industry. It would educate the public and inspire curious home owners and businesses to at least get a solar thermal estimate.

If, on the other hand, the White House solar designers only chose to fit solar PV on the White House roof, well…. that’s not a tragedy for the industry either. The President could still promote the existing solar thermal collectors on the White House grounds and show how much money they’ve saved tax payers since 2004.

Time will tell if either scenario will happen. Cross your fingers….

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