White House solar panels power up
Barack Obama unveils new solar expansion plans as officials confirm White House panels are now operational.
Barack Obama will on Friday unveil several new initiatives intended to expand the deployment of solar power on Friday, as officials confirmed that a set of solar panels on the roof of the White House was now operational.
Obama will - once again - bypass a deadlocked Congress and use his executive authority to announce $2bn funding for energy-saving measures at federal government buildings, as well as new financing and training programmes for solar installations.
The announcements, to be made on a trip to California, cap a climate-focused week at the White House, following the release of an authoritative report on the growing threat posed by heat waves, severe downpours and sea-level rise.
White House officials told a conference call with reporters the initiatives were intended to add momentum to the solar industry, which has seen rapid expansion over the last two years.
"We are going to be doing everything we can, with the tools that we have to move forward," said Dan Utech, special assistant to the president on energy and climate change.
In a largely symbolic move, the White House began installing a small set of solar panels on the roof last summer. The fit was now complete, officials said, releasing a video in which the panels were shown being installed. "The size of the array we established here is the typical size for the average American house, " said James Doherty, the White House usher. Security concerns had prevented the whole roof being covered, he said.
The solar panels were part of a broader energy retrofit at the White House, demonstrating it was possible to introduce renewable energy even in historic buildings, officials claimed.
Solar panels were originally installed at the White House under Jimmy Carter, but Ronald Reagan ordered them dismantled in 1986. Obama brought in the latest solar technology as a sign of his commitment to renewable energy.
The panels will repay the costs of installation within eight years, officials said.
Solar power is the fastest-growing source of renewable energy in America. However, it still acounts for just 1% of overall electricity generation, according to the Energy Information Administration. The White House has been working to challenge companies such as Walmart and Ikea to expand their use of solar power.
The president travelled to California on Friday to visit a Walmart store in Mountain View, where the company will commit to doubling its use of solar power.
Walmart already produces and uses more solar power than any other big-box retailer - more than twice as much as Costco, its nearest competitor. That still amounts to only about 4% of its overall energy use provided by solar power, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
The environmental group Friends of the Earth said holding up Walmart as an example was misguided. "Walmart has both under-reported its greenhouse gas emissions and failed to meet its 2012 targets," the group said.
The measures outlined on Friday add to a suite of programmes that have made it more easier and more affordable for companies and homeowners to install solar panels.
Tax credits have helped offset the costs, and the price of solar panels has fallen by half just since 2010.
On Friday, Obama will announce measures designed to make solar panels affordable even for multi-family houses, and new programmes to train solar installers at community colleges.
Suzanne Goldenberg, the guardian