Obama to tout renewables, announce solar panel back at the White House

President Obama will take a break from fundraising Friday to highlight environmental efforts, including an update on solar panels at the White House.
(Eva Hambach / AFP-Getty Images)

President Obama will promote his record on energy efficiency on Friday by touting several initiatives he says are taking hold across the country – as well as the completion of one very close to home.

After years of delay, solar panels have been installed on the first family’s residence at the White House, according to aides, who say Obama will make the announcement at a speech in Mountain View, Calif., on Friday.

The news makes good on a nearly four-year-old promise to return the renewable energy source to the most high-profile roof in the country. (President Carter had solar panels installed there, but President Reagan had them taken down in 1986.)


Obama’s plan, announced in October 2010, was a lead-by-example moment in a push to boost solar energy. But the idea, which sounded simple in concept, proved to come with several complications related to retrofitting a historic and tightly secured building.

Installation got underway in August. Now, in addition to the American-made panels, capable of 6.3 kilowatts of solar generation, the White House has other energy-saving equipment, including updated building controls and variable-speed fans.

The project “helps demonstrate that historic buildings can incorporate solar energy and energy efficiency upgrades,” said White House spokesman Matt Lehrich.

Lehrich said the project will “pay for itself in energy savings over the next eight years” but declined to say how much the project cost.

The announcement was one of several coming on Friday as Obama interrupts a fundraising blitz in California to highlight his second-term push on the environment. The president was due to speak at a Wal-Mart, one of several companies that has agreed to boost its use of solar power.

The announcements will cap a week of environmental messages coming from Obama administration and Democratic allies in Congress. On Tuesday, the White House released the National Climate Assessment, a report four years in the making detailing the effects of climate change on the U.S. The administration also sponsored a conference on building greener buildings this week, while Democrats in the Senate took up energy-efficiency legislation likely to be torpedoed by Republican opposition.

With little chance of moving any major legislation through the divided Congress, Obama has vowed to use his office to work around lawmakers on an issue he claimed would be near the top of his second-term agenda. His so-called “pen and phone” strategy has led to several new climate initiatives, including new regulations for curbing emissions at existing power plants due out in June.

White House officials said Obama would add to the list of activity on Friday. The president is expected to announce the following private partnerhsips, according to the White House:

  • Ten companies have pledged to increase onsite solar generation at their facilities. The list includes Walmart, Yahoo, Google, Apple, Ikea, Kaiser Permanente, Clif Bar, Viridity Energy, Bonipak farms and Taylor Farms.
  • Four financial institutions, including Citi and Goldman Sachs, have pledged to invest in solar and renewable energy programs.
  • Twenty-five organizations, including states, cities, school districts, retailers and others, will join the president’s Better Buildings Challenge and commit to cutting energy use by 20% by 2020.
  • Twenty companies and local governments promised to cut energy wasted from the inefficient use of water.
  • More than 25 low-income housing nonprofits and developers pledged to increase solar energy use.

Obama also plans to highlight several executive actions, officials said. They include:

  • The Department of Energy will expand a program that supports solar- sector job training at community colleges. The program will help 50,000 workers enter the industry, according to the White House.
  • The energy department will also set a $2-billion goal for updates in federal buildings financed through energy efficiency performance contracts.
  • The department will also finalize energy efficiency conservation standards for small electric motors, such as those used to power conveyor belts and escalators, as well as for walk-in coolers and freezers.