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UnThink Solar
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Phone: 415-395-0941

Yes, He Can…Put Solar Panels Back on the White House

If you haven’t heard the big solar news, a Washington Post reporter has confirmed from an anonymous source that the Obama Administration is finally following through with Secretary Chu’s promise to put solar panels back on the White House.

Anyone who’s followed this Solar Fred blog on Renewable Energy World knows that getting solar on the White House has been a solar advocacy quest of mine since February 2010, when I first suggested that a solar panel company should give the White House a solar system and reap the brand recognition of that honor — should the White House accept.

A solar panel manufacturer didn’t step up, but a coalition of many other solar companies and installers did for Earth Day 2010. Sungevity offered a free solar PV system and launched a terrific “Globama” social media campaign; Free Hot Water offered a solar thermal system; Kaco New Energy offered inverters, and many other solar pros offered various other products or services.

Personally, I thought the media would quickly pick up the Sungevity campaign, and — given Obama’s stated clean energy goals — that he would quickly and positively respond. Nope.

Nothing seemed to get the White House’s attention until’s Bill McKibben joined the Sungevity campaign and pulled a great guerrilla marketing stunt. On a road trip from Unity College in Maine, McKibben brought one of President Jimmy Carter’s old solar thermal panels to the White House, asking that the President put it back up on the roof or put some new ones on. Meeting with the President’s advisers, they politely declined McKibben…until about a week later.

In a surprise announcement, Secretary Chu said that the Administration would allow the installation of solar PV and solar thermal back on the White House as a DOE demonstration project. At that time, Chu said they’d be installed by the end of Spring of 2011.

We all celebrated at SPI 2010 and we waited. Nothing. Impatient, I kicked in a polite reminder post at the end of Spring 2011, but there was radio silence at the White House.

In November 2012 after the election, I wrote another reminder blog post, this time slightly less polite. It got picked up by a couple of major news organizations, but still there was no response from the White House about its tardiness or that they would follow through at all.

Nearly a year later, The Washington Post story came to my email from an old Google News Alert that I’d set up in 2010 for “Solar on the White House.” Finally, they were ready.

While I’m elated, many questions still remain:

  • Why did it take so long?
  • What solar panels are up there?
  • How much did the installation cost and what will be the ROI?
  • Will they publicize the installation and show monitoring on a web portal?
  • Will they have any other public education materials about solar?
  • Will they double weld the panels down so that future administrations won’t dare to take them off for another 25 years?

Time will tell. For now, those questions can wait. The White House is actually going to have solar panels on its roof again, and it will be a powerful symbol for not only the United States, but for the entire world.

Tor Valenza a.k.a. “Solar Fred” is a solar marketing and communications consultant and the author of Solar Fred's Guide to Solar Guerrilla Marketing. Sign up for the Solar Fred Marketing Newsletter, or contact him through UnThink Solar. You can also follow @SolarFred on Twitter.



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