Alright people, you can stop holding your breath … a photovoltaic array has officially and finally arrived at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.

The news, revealed earlier today by President Barack Obama at a Walmart store in Mountain View, Calif. as part of a 14-minute speech detailing several new ambitious energy efficiency initiatives being spearheaded by his administration, may come as somewhat of a surprise to some, yours truly included.

As you might recall, President Obama generated a whole lot of (mostly) positive noise back in 2010 when he committed to installing solar panels atop the White House. The spring 2011 completion date for the project came and went and many (Bill McKibben not included) either completely forgot about the White House solar panels or assumed that they had already quietly been installed at some point. For a while there, the whole thing fell completely off the radar. When I first got wind of today's announcement, my first reaction was along the lines of wait a minute, didn’t this already … oh yeah, right.

Work on the White House solar array actually kicked off in August of last year. The completed installation covers a small area of the Executive Mansion’s rooftop although officials won’t disclose exactly where the modest array, described as being the "typical size for the average American home," is located for security reasons. White House spokesman Matt Lehrich describes the 6.3-kilowatt PV system as being part of an overall "energy retrofit that will improve the overall energy efficiency of the building. The retrofit includes the installation of energy-saving equipment such as updated building controls and variable speed fans, as well as 6.3 kilowatts of solar generation.”

A price tag on the project hasn't been mentioned but White House officials anticipate that the domestically manufactured panels will pay for themselves in energy savings in less than 8 years.

And, no, it normally doesn’t take this long to install a 6.3kW solar array on a roof of a home. I suppose the delay can be attributed to the fact that this home is, well, special.

Although Obama's PV panels have been a long time coming, this isn’t the first time in history that the roof of the White House has been outfitted with them.

Well, kind of.

During the height of 1979's energy crisis, Jimmy Carter had 32 solar thermal panels, not electricity-generating PV panels, installed (I’d like to assume Mr. Carter, being the carpentry icon that he is today, donned a tool belt, dragged a ladder out of a utility shed, and did all the work himself) atop the West Wing. He said at the time: "No one can ever embargo the sun or interrupt its delivery to us. 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 a small part of one of the greatest and most exciting adventures ever undertaken by the American people; harnessing the power of the sun to enrich our lives as we move away from our crippling dependence on foreign oil.”


Two years later, Ronald Reagan, a fellow not exactly known for being keen on alternative energy took office and ordered that the solar thermal collectors be dismantled. Five years afer that, in 1986, they were. In 1992, 16 of the panels were de-mothballed from a federal warehouse in Virginia and relocated to Unity College in Maine where they were used to heat water in the school’s dining hall.

And although technically not located on the White House, the National Park Service installed a modest (9kW) PV array atop a maintenance shed on the property during the administration of celebrated dog portraitist George W. Bush.

Jimmy Carter, today is your day.

Via [Washington Post], [Scientific American]

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Matt Hickman ( @mattyhick ) writes about design, architecture and the intersection between the natural world and the built environment.

At long last, the White House solar array is up and running
They're baaack ... nearly 30 years later, solar panels are once again gracing the roof of America's most famous neoclassical mansion.