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United States Earth Power

Solar Power On the White House 405

Posted by samzenpus
from the red-white-and-green dept.
CartaNova writes "The Obama administration has announced plans to install solar panels and a solar hot water heater on the White House. The Carter administration had previously installed a 32-panel solar system at the White House — which was quietly removed during Reagan's tenure in office. Solar hot water and Photovoltaic firms had been campaigning on this issue for some time."
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Solar Power On the White House

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  • by BadAnalogyGuy (945258) <BadAnalogyGuy@gmail.com> on Thursday October 07, 2010 @02:20AM (#33821160)

    I've seen the White House on Google Maps and Google Earth and there seems to be some kind of thick cloud obscuring the area. Will they generate any electricity with these things or is it just another feel-good liberal gesture with no real world effect?

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      I've seen the White House on Google Maps and Google Earth and there seems to be some kind of thick cloud obscuring the area. Will they generate any electricity with these things or is it just another feel-good liberal gesture with no real world effect?

      Haha, but you're out of date [google.com] -- looks quite sunny to me!

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by sco08y (615665)

      I've seen the White House on Google Maps and Google Earth and there seems to be some kind of thick cloud obscuring the area. Will they generate any electricity with these things or is it just another feel-good liberal gesture with no real world effect?

      It's the East coast, so it's mild compared to southern heat, and not nearly as sunny as Cali, but there are definitely plenty of sunny days.

      • by Skweetis (46377) on Thursday October 07, 2010 @09:32AM (#33823668) Homepage

        I live in the Northeast, and I have powered my house with a solar panel for almost ten years (there is no municipal electrical service where I live). A sunny day isn't required for the panels to work; they work better in full sunlight, but work quite well with cloud cover. Mine will even charge my batteries slowly on a clear night when the moon is full. They actually work better in the winter -- even though the days are shorter, reflected light from snow cover results in greater ambient light and by extension, better charging. Does it snow much in DC?

        My solar panel is 18" x 48", IIRC, and I just have the one. It's an older model, and not as efficient as the new ones, but it meets all of my admittedly modest electrical needs and then some. This will work fine, assuming it's properly engineered.

        • by Shakrai (717556) * on Thursday October 07, 2010 @10:09AM (#33824096) Journal

          Does it snow much in DC?

          No. And when it does they shut the whole city down. I'm from Upstate NY -- we don't stop our normal routine for anything short of whiteout blizzard conditions. DC shuts down if they get more than a dusting. That's probably a good thing because none of the morons on the roadways south of the Mason-Dixon line have any clue how to drive in snow.

      • by GameboyRMH (1153867) <gameboyrmh@[ ]il.com ['gma' in gap]> on Thursday October 07, 2010 @09:56AM (#33823932) Journal

        Serious idea: Turn the Washington Monument into a solar thermal collector. The reflecting pool is replaced with a mirror array, the heat exchanger (focus point of the mirrors) goes on top of the monument (it could even look similar...replace the top with an identically-shaped heat exchanger, they could paint it dark gray or maybe even black, but when lit up it would be so bright it would look as white as the rest of the monument). Washington would be proud (his monument directly contributing to US prosperity and security, not like those other deadbeat monuments) and anti-environmentalists will absolutely lose their shit at the news. Win-win!

  • solar hot water (Score:5, Informative)

    by bhcompy (1877290) on Thursday October 07, 2010 @02:24AM (#33821180)
    I've had solar hot water at my family's home since the early 80s. Looks kind of weird, like giant lasagna pans on the roof, but I'll be damned if they don't work great and keep the gas bill down. Not sure how much it will help in Washington, but worth it in So Cal, especially with the govt kicking in a large tax credit
    • Re:solar hot water (Score:5, Informative)

      by santax (1541065) on Thursday October 07, 2010 @02:32AM (#33821224)
      Once I had a job making swimmingpool-installations. We also had the option of using solarpanels for warming the water. Worked great and the people that bought them had way lower operating costs of the pool. It's an investment at first but it's worth it. In Germany solarpower is huge btw. They have a law there that obligates the powercompanies to actually buy the leftover-green power from the citizens back to the network. Really a country-wide win-win.
      • Re:solar hot water (Score:5, Interesting)

        by MichaelSmith (789609) on Thursday October 07, 2010 @03:35AM (#33821632) Homepage Journal
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by clarkkent09 (1104833)
        For your information, solar subsidies in Germany have been a failure http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/georgemonbiot/2010/mar/11/solar-power-germany-feed-in-tariff [guardian.co.uk] $1 billion per month cost to the German taxpayer and still barely produces 1% of total electricity used in Germany while actually causing a net loss of jobs. Same with Denmark, the "world leader in wind power" (thanks to subsidies by Danish taxpayers) with the highest electricity costs in Europe to show for it. I'm all for renewable energy w
        • by Joce640k (829181)

          That's photovoltaic power. Photovoltaic cells are rubbish, yes, the conversion efficiency simply isn't good enough yet.

          Using panels to heat water is still a very good idea though.

          • by lazybeam (162300)

            During summer my hot water bills are pretty much zero. Since getting PV and solar hot water my power bill has been reduced by more than a third - and that was with a pregnant wife (which meant more air-con use). Luckily I got them with a grant from the Australian government and it was all pretty much free!

      • by argStyopa (232550)

        As far as I know, pretty much every US state also requires its power companies to buy any consumer-generated power added to the grid.

        Germany OTOH forces its power companies to buy solar-generated electricity at a high, above-market fixed rate. This and other massive subsidies to the solar power industry are calculated at anywhere from $60 billion euros to $180 billion euros - a HUGE amount, at least until you consider the $180 billion that's subsidizing Germany's decrepit domestic coal industry.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    I have both technologies on my roof and both are rather simple and reliable. In Germany most new homes do at least have solar hot water and it's a great feeling that you don't need any natural gas for about half of the year (it would be even greater if it would work for the whole year but then you'd need something like a 20.000 gallon reservoir for hot water which would make it somewhat less simple).

    I thought it would fit with the American culture to be proud of modern technology and to be independent. So

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by codepunk (167897)

      Yes there is a extremely good reason we could care less about solar and especially solar electrical power. My electric bill averages about 80 dollars a month, I live in the central part of
      the country at that rate it would take about 30 years to reach break even, if I could generate all my electrical needs with a 30k investment. As long as we have plentiful coal resources which
      we do electricity is a relatively cheap commodity.

      • Yes there is a extremely good reason we could care less about solar and especially solar electrical power.

        I could care more.

      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward

        As long as we have plentiful coal resources which we do electricity is a relatively cheap commodity.

        ... it's only relatively cheap if you if you ignore the externalities. tally the true cost and it's not as lopsided.

        Sure PV is only cost effective if you otherwise would have to run lines out to where you want to go, but solar-thermal hot water heating (and dare I saw wind generation) is already competitive, if not already the better long term investment.

        couple it with an inground-thermal mass heat pump (whe

    • by feepness (543479) on Thursday October 07, 2010 @02:54AM (#33821386) Homepage
      Why do Europeans have problems not generalizing about Americans?

      I just signed a contract to get solar power installed, and the sales guy said business was booming. His phone didn't stop buzzing the entire time.

      Also, our President is getting solar power, if you hadn't heard.
      • by perpenso (1613749) on Thursday October 07, 2010 @04:21AM (#33821850)

        Also, our President is getting solar power, if you hadn't heard.

        Apparently the public often misses it when the President installs solar. G W Bush installed solar. From the fans of W at the Huffington Post:
        "In 2003, solar photovoltaic panels were installed at the White House. Two smaller solar thermal systems were also installed to heat water: one for landscape maintenance personnel, the other for the presidential pool and spa. The Bush Administration itself never really announced the project."
        http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/01/27/white-house-solar-panels_n_160575.html [huffingtonpost.com]

        • by Trailer Trash (60756) on Thursday October 07, 2010 @08:26AM (#33823052) Homepage

          G W Bush's house in TX is also one of the most environmentally friendly houses on the planet. Al Gore, on the other hand, lives in a mansion here in Nashville that is 3 times the size of my house but with 10 times the energy usage. He also has another mansion in CA that's comparable in size.

          Sometimes it's what you *do* rather than what you *say* that tells me everything I need to know about you...

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Grismar (840501)

        "Why do Europeans have problems not generalizing about Americans?"

        *lol* I don't really have to go and explain what's funny here, right?

        Yours, A European.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Alioth (221270)

        It's probably because there seems to be a hard core of very *loud* Americans who yell (figuratively, online) at the top of their voices about how any renewable power is no good. They also yell loudly about how $INSERT_EFFICIENT_TECHNOLOGY is no good, too. It's almost as if they think being energy inefficient is something to be proud of.

        • Thats why they yell instead of talking...
        • by internewt (640704)

          It's probably because there seems to be a hard core of very *loud* Americans who yell (figuratively, online) at the top of their voices about how any renewable power is no good. They also yell loudly about how $INSERT_EFFICIENT_TECHNOLOGY is no good, too. It's almost as if they think being energy inefficient is something to be proud of.

          They have mod points too:
            (Score:1, Troll)
          by Alioth (221270)

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by hey! (33014)

        Why do Europeans have problems not generalizing about Americans?

        Yes, I've often wondered myself why all Europeans have stereotyped views of Americans, damn their brie-eating, lederhosen wearing, cricket-playing hides!

      • by arth1 (260657)

        Why do Europeans have problems not generalizing about Americans?

        Because generalization isn't seen as an inherently bad thing outside the US, but a useful rough statistical tool? It's far more accurate than basing one's opinion on exceptional cases.

        The GP informed us that most German homes are built with solar panels, and you know damn well that not even a tiny percentage of American homes are, nor will this be the case five years from now no matter what Obama or you do.

        Or, to put it another way:
        If you wer

    • by phantomfive (622387) on Thursday October 07, 2010 @02:59AM (#33821420) Journal
      I don't think it's "Americans don't like solar power." Most Americans I know (liberals and conservatives) like solar power. It's cool technology, and getting free energy from the sun sounds like such a good deal.

      If you hear about Americans objecting to solar power, it's probably objecting to the government subsidies for installing solar panels. Conservatives and Libertarians tend to support the idea that we should focus on making the technology cheaper, then people will install it on their own, rather than subsidizing it.
      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by oiron (697563)

        Conservatives and Libertarians tend to support the idea that we should focus on making the technology cheaper, then people will install it on their own, rather than subsidizing it.

        I think conservatives and libertarians feel that we should do nothing, and that Free Market Jesus will come from the sky and solve all problems in one fell swoop...

        • by jcr (53032) <[jcr] [at] [mac.com]> on Thursday October 07, 2010 @03:58AM (#33821756) Journal

          More like, individuals pursuing their own goals will do a better job of allocating resources than a pack of bureaucrats trying to manage the economy. Your characterization of the free market as some kind of miracle betrays your own ignorance.

          -jcr

          • by oiron (697563) on Thursday October 07, 2010 @04:42AM (#33821952) Homepage

            I don't think of it as a miracle, but it appears that some conservatives and libertarians do. Note that I don't make the claim that socialism (or bureaucratism for that matter) is any better. I just don't think that the whole "free market solves all" method is going to work in every case.

            It makes individual sense to do a lot of things that are detrimental to human society, or even local society as a whole. In some cases, it is better to regulate the cost of a particular resource to reflect the actual societal cost of its extraction or use. That's something the "free" market is horrible at.

        • by clarkkent09 (1104833) on Thursday October 07, 2010 @04:04AM (#33821772)
          I think liberals feel that we should do nothing, and that Government Jesus will come from the sky and solve all problems in one fell swoop. Free Market Jesus has a hell of a lot better track record than Government Jesus when it comes to solving problems, and without sacrificing liberty too.
          • by oiron (697563) on Thursday October 07, 2010 @04:44AM (#33821968) Homepage

            Neither "Jesus" seems to have much of a track record individually - it's only when the two work together, complimenting their skills and covering up their weaknesses that things happen. Both extreme socialists (ie communists) and conservatives don't seem to get this.

            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              by clarkkent09 (1104833)
              Can you be more specific? What are the weaknesses of the free market where the government should step in? I think pretty standard libertarian beliefs involve government acting only as an umpire, providing laws, police, military, legislature, courts, that sort of thing. Essentially it all boils down to protecting individual liberty by removing the use of physical force from the society. I must be one of those extreme conservatives you speak off because I can't think of too many other valid uses for the gover
              • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

                by Anonymous Coward

                What are the weaknesses of the free market where the government should step in?

                Sub-prime mortgages? Derivatives-build-from-derivatives ad nauseum? Rings any bell?

              • by jeff4747 (256583) on Thursday October 07, 2010 @08:33AM (#33823112)

                Well, one example is the free market will never properly price externalities, such as pollution. Pollution is free - just let it spew out the smokestack, or dump it in the river. This caused widespread problems.

                So the government added a price to pollution.

          • by jeff4747 (256583)

            So...did you just come out of a coma, or were you not paying attention when "Free Market Jesus" almost destroyed the global economy in 2008?

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by SuricouRaven (1897204)
        The only ones I've heard object for political reasons are the far-right. Not just the regular conservatives, but those towards the fringe - and they only oppose solar because it's a 'liberal thing,' and thus must be evil.
    • We're really just thinking of the poor. Basically, if people are using less energy from the power companies, their profits will go down. Since they are publicly owned (i.e. they have shareholders, not that they're owned by the govt), profit is the primary goal. As such, they will raise rates for those who are still dependent on their systems because they can't afford solar power.

      Basically, solar power is a liberal elite technology for oppressing the poor. Of course, as always, they *claim* it's just
      • My wife and I were talking about something similar yesterday: How the only people who can afford hybrids and electrics that save a ton of money on gas are the people who have enough money that the price of gas isn't really hurting them.

        That said, correlation definitely does not imply causation here. The price is high because the technology being new. As they find ways to make it more efficient and more easily mass produced, the benefits will get to the point where more middle class people can afford it.
      • by BergZ (1680594)
        Actually, supply and demand requires that as fewer people use the publicly owned utilities that will mean that they have a surplus of generating capacity driving the price down for their few remaining customers.
        Putting solar panels on your roof isn't just good for the environment: It helps the poor too.
  • No payback (Score:5, Funny)

    by DerekLyons (302214) <[moc.liamg] [ta] [retawriaf]> on Thursday October 07, 2010 @02:44AM (#33821324) Homepage

    The energy saved by the installation will be more than made up for by the amount of energy expended in proclaiming how green the White House is.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by NixieBunny (859050)
      Yeah, the amount of power used in any commercial or government building is astonishing when illustrated by the size of the solar array needed to generate it. A local (Tucson) solar panel factory installed a system big enough to power one shift of production - it dwarfed the factory building and parking lot.
    • by CrazyJim1 (809850) on Thursday October 07, 2010 @04:25AM (#33821872) Journal
      Actually its not solar power. They're putting Sterling Engines on the roof of the Whitehouse running off the differential of heat between the atmosphere and the hot air rising to the roof.
    • by dkleinsc (563838)

      Actually, if we really wanted to make Washington DC green, and help solve the global warming problem, we'd find a way to capture energy from all the hot air that gets spewed out there.

  • by masterwit (1800118) * on Thursday October 07, 2010 @02:48AM (#33821346) Journal

    I could make a cynical remark in AC about some political bias this or that...but honestly I don't think it fits here.

    With this economy, green technology today is not the extent of the "green-washing" we saw during the housing bubble in 2006. I believe in many ways that a good portion of what we dub "green technology" today is rather fiscally smart investments - good for our pocket and the environment. There should be no contest to what decision Obama may have pushed...hell this is like voting to reduce the volume on commercials: it is something which just about everyone agrees.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by demonlapin (527802)
      Lots of things that are smart investments if you're building a home from scratch are not so great if you're talking about replacing a working system. Almost nobody will pay more for a house just because it has better efficiency that will save $1000/year on utility bills, so the payback horizon is often much longer than people intend to own the house for.
      • by mean pun (717227)

        Lots of things that are smart investments if you're building a home from scratch are not so great if you're talking about replacing a working system. Almost nobody will pay more for a house just because it has better efficiency that will save $1000/year on utility bills, so the payback horizon is often much longer than people intend to own the house for.

        So, you're saying that Obama shouldn't have had these panels installed because he will have moved out before they have paid themselves back, and it doesn't increase the sales price of the White House? It makes a weird kind of sense, actually.

      • by jeff4747 (256583)

        Actually, houses with solar panels and other things to improve efficiency do sell for more money.

        Not enough to recoup 100% of the investment, so you'll need to save on utility bills for a few years first in order to pay for the entire investment....assuming you put no value on smug, nor value on having your own power supply if the grid is down.

  • by rolfwind (528248) on Thursday October 07, 2010 @02:55AM (#33821388)

    He removed solar thermal panels, probably much less efficient than the evacuated tubes used today, when the roof was being repaired in 1986:
    http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9A0DE2DF113BF937A1575BC0A960948260 [nytimes.com]

    They were not reinstalled because of cost effectiveness issue. I also heard maintenance was a pain. They were donated to a university, IIRC.

    Bush also had solar panels installed:
    http://www.nytimes.com/2003/02/27/technology/how-it-works-from-a-white-house-roof-solar-power-proclaims-gains.html [nytimes.com]

    Many places are spinning this story politically no doubt.

    BTW, I think solar thermal and more insulation is a great, cost effective thing. PV, otoh, not so much yet.

    • Bush also had solar panels installed.......Many places are spinning this story politically no doubt.

      All the political spin I've seen has been, "more evidence that Obama is like Carter." So are you saying Bush is like Carter too? Interesting......I suppose you could make a case.

      • by konohitowa (220547) on Thursday October 07, 2010 @03:23AM (#33821568) Journal

        I suspect it's mostly a reference to the summary, which used coloring words such as "quietly" in regard to Reagan while simultaneously omitting any mention of Bush.

      • by rolfwind (528248)

        All the political spin I've seen has been, "more evidence that Obama is like Carter." So are you saying Bush is like Carter too? Interesting......I suppose you could make a case.

        No, I seen this issue multiple times today (/. not being the first at this story, by far) and it's used to paint a mostly "Republicans bad, Democrats good" picture.

        I think Carter was a good man, advanced on some issues for his time, naive on foreign policy, that was handed a shit-fest when he came into the white house, did a lot of

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by llManDrakell (897726)
      According to Fred Morse, who helped install the system - they were working just fine. In fact, half of the solar panels are still being used today:

      http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=carter-white-house-solar-panel-array [scientificamerican.com]

      Reagan also halved the Energy Department's conservation and alternative fuels budget, reduced research spending on photovoltaics by two-thirds, and removed energy tax credits for homeowners. I think Reagans track record on energy policies can basically sum up how he felt about

  • with panels made in China. Uniquely American!

  • ... The Green House?

    Take it away, Jim! [youtube.com]
  • Politics aside, this is a great symbolic gesture by the White House. Hopefully the publicity will make a few people think of installing a solar water heater and be kind to Mother earth. Understand that this technology might not be applicable for all parts of the world, but there is significant portion of the world where the solar water heater makes eminent sense. Currently I live in Bangalore, India. I have a solar water installed in my house with a 300 liters storage volume. It works for 95% of the year f
  • solar & wind power (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Max_W (812974) on Thursday October 07, 2010 @07:30AM (#33822702)

    The most effective solar and wind power device is drying clothing outside. It not only saves electricity, but actually cooling down an environment.

    The problem is that it may look unaesthetic, unless a nice looking dryer is invented. Meanwhile drying clothing in the air is forbidden in many districts and even entire cities.

    The effectiveness of drying is 100%. No energy is being lost. And the volume is enormous, - billions of people wash and dry clothing everyday.

    Production of dryers does not involve any toxic material and is not expensive. But if clothing is dried in electrical driers then a lot, a lot of electrical energy is being used.

    I would argue that the problem of global warming would be solved, if drying outdoors would be not forbidden, but promoted. Of course, after an invention of a aesthetic outdoor drier.

    • by jeff4747 (256583)

      I would argue that the problem of global warming would be solved, if drying outdoors would be not forbidden, but promoted.

      Apparently you're bad at math.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Thing 1 (178996)

      Interesting argument. I especially like the "drying outdoors is forbidden" -- and wonder whether the dryer manufacturers had any hand in the creation of those laws.

      Last night I watched an excellent movie that was referenced here a couple weeks ago, which I then ordered from their website: "What If Cannabis Cured Cancer?" I was completely blown away by this (hour-long) movie; it shows how two interlocking substances evolved in different directions, we have one of them in our bodies, and the other is found

  • Quietly my ass (Score:5, Informative)

    by mbone (558574) on Thursday October 07, 2010 @07:34AM (#33822724)

    "...— which was quietly removed during Reagan's tenure in office"

    I don't know what the OP is talking about. This was done very early on and was publicized widely, as a way of showing how the Reagan administration was forward looking and confident, as opposed to the defeatist Carter administration (or something like that - I could never really grasp Reagan's propaganda). What was done fairly quietly was the complete evisceration and cancelation of the Carter era alternative energy research program, which was just at the stage of showing promise. What was left unsaid was how pleased the oil companies were by all of this.

  • I notice the story you posted, removed the part about that Bush put in Solar power to heat the pool and a out side building. So not the only solar power at the White House.
  • Whenever I read about solar panels, I think of hail storms. Last month, Wichita, Kansas had hail; some the size (and weight) of billiard balls.

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