The History of the White House Solar Panels

Reading time: 2 minutes 02/21/2022 Education, News

The White House…is green?

Because our leaders chose to lead by example, solar panels now cost 80% less than in 2008, allowing more people to afford to power their homes with clean energy. In fact, all across the country, a new photovoltaic system is being installed every four minutes.

Now, let’s take a brief look at who helped bring solar power to the forefront of history.

Carter Administration: Solar-Thermal Installation

After an Iranian employee strike in late 1978 led to the 1979 Oil Crisis, President Jimmy Carter championed for clean and renewable energy to bring about American energy independence.

Hoping to lead by example, he installed 32 solar panels on the roof of the West Wing to heat the water supply for the household’s laundry and cafeteria:

“A generation from now, this solar heater can either be a curiosity, a museum piece, an example of a road not taken, or it can be a small part of one of the greatest and most exciting adventures ever undertaken by the American people; harnessing the power of the sun to enrich our lives as we move away from our crippling dependence on foreign oil.” –President Jimmy Carter, 1979

Reagan Administration: Solar-Thermal Removal

During the 1986 renovations of the White House roof, all 32 solar panels were removed. Some people claim reinstallation never occurred because of cost concerns, but President Ronald Reagan and his administration didn’t take solar energy seriously—reflected in funding cuts for the Energy Department’s research and development and in allowing the Carter-instated tax credit to lapse.

The panels were stored until being acquired by the Maine Unity College in 1991. Some were installed to heat their cafeteria water and others were donated to the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History, the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and Museum, the Chinese Solar Science and Technology Museum in Dezhou, and the Himin Solar Energy Group Co—the world’s largest manufacturer of similar solar water heaters.

Bush Administration: Solar-Electric and Solar-Thermal Installation

In 2003 George W. Bush and the National Park Service (which manages the complex) installed the first-ever solar-electric/photovoltaic system on the rooftop of the grounds maintenance building. The 9-kilowatt system featured 167 panels to provide solar-generated power for the White House grounds.

“We believe in these technologies, and they’ve been working for us very successfully. The National Park Service as a whole has long been interested in both sustainable design and renewable energy sources. We also have a mission to lower our energy consumption at all our sites, and we saw an opportunity to do both at the White House grounds.” –James Doherty, National Park Service Office for White House Liaison Architect and Project Manager

A solar-thermal system to heat the pool/spa and another to heat household water were also installed.

Obama Administration: Solar-Electric Addition

From 2013-2014 President Barack Obama installed 20-50 additional panels on the roof of the White House and a new solar-thermal system on the roof of the living quarters. These new panels are about six times more powerful than those installed in 1979, and officials expect to convert sunlight into 19,700 kilowatt-hours of electricity a year.

“By installing solar panels on arguable 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.” –Nancy Sutley, White House Council on Environmental Quality Chairwoman

See the video below for a glimpse behind the scenes of the White House solar panel installation:


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