After Reagan Threw Them Out, Obama Brings Solar Panels Back to the White House Roof

1600 Pennsylvania Avenue is getting a renewable makeover.
Obama brings solar panels back to the White House roof. (Photo: Uschools University Images/Getty)
Aug 15, 2013· 1 MIN READ
A climate blogger, RL is chair of the California Democratic Party’s Environmental Caucus.

The White House roof is finally going solar—again.

After pledging to put solar panels on the White House roof in October 2010 as a sign of the President’s commitment to renewable energy, the panels are going up now. They’re part of an energy retrofit that will improve the overall energy efficiency of the building, and the White House projects the improvements will pay for themselves over eight years.

Solar panels have graced the White House’s roof once before. President Jimmy Carter had 32 installed during his term, stating in 1979: “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 just a small part of one of the greatest and most exciting adventures ever undertaken by the American people.”

Alas, the panels were scattered throughout museums when President Ronald Reagan removed them in 1986. George W. Bush had solar panels peppered throughout White House grounds to power a maintenance building and heat the swimming pool, but they weren’t as well publicized as the Carter panels.

Bill McKibben’s lobbied Obama at the start of his first term to restore the panels, and even took one of them on a tour from Vermont to the White House in 2010. Now, in perhaps a sign of’s relentless focus on keeping fossil fuels in the ground, Jamie Henn,’s communications director, tells TakePart: ”There’s no good faith way that the president could install solar panels on his roof and then put a pipeline in America’s backyard. In fact, the installation ceremony for the new panels would be the perfect place for the president to announce he’s rejecting the Keystone XL pipeline.“

The 1979 panels are antiques by today’s standards—large clunky things that contained tubes to heat up water. The White House is, so far, mum on the design of these panels other than to note they’re American-made...but they’re probably technologically light years ahead of Carter’s panels.

The installation is even being met with some snark from some.

Carter Lavin, Business Development Manager at Solar Marketing Group and “solar hipster,” tells TakePart with tongue in cheek: “Now that the White House is going solar, it’s just too mainstream. It used to be a statement to go solar, but now even families in government housing in D.C. are doing it.”