This Washington Post article reports that the White House is installing solar panels this week. That’s a great move, and a great statement. I wonder if the Obama’s are eligible for the 30% Federal Tax Credit on the purchase.
I did notice one interesting point in the statement made by the unnamed White House official. They said that the solar panels are being installed as part of an overall retrofit to make the building more efficient. I’m one of those annoying people that insists on always being accurate and correcting people that make minor factual, grammatical, and technical misstatements.1 The point I want to make is that solar panels do nothing to make buildings more efficient. They simply change the source of the energy from the primary supplier to solar energy.
I know that ‘s being pretty nit-picky, but based on the presentations I give before groups, it’s clear that people don’t really understand how solar electricity systems interact with the home and utility grid. In reality, a building mounted solar electric system just produces power. It does not reduce the energy needed to perform the same function/work, which is the definition of efficiency that is important here. Efficiency upgrades would include lighting that uses less electricity (provided that the light output is the same or the functionality is unchanged), heating and air conditioning systems that use less electricity to result in a change in temperature, and insulation that results in decreased need for mechanical heating and air conditioning systems. These are things that reduce the energy required to meet the needs of it’s occupants.
In other words, adding solar panels to the White House is not “part of an energy retrofit that will improve the overall energy efficiency of the building.” It’s a retrofit that will shift reliance on the primary source of electricity to a renewable resource, albeit for a very small portion of the energy consumed.2
Don’t get me wrong – I think its an important message to send to the American people. The solar industry is one of the few thriving industries in terms of jobs, and the installation signals a shift to a new energy paradigm. Maybe we should call it “whitewashing(ton)” instead of greenwashing. Sometimes greenwashing is justified, and I think this is one of those cases.
I also found the “competitive bidding process” a bit funny for this 20-50 panel system. We’re talking about a $50,000 project. The government will spend triple that on the bureaucratic process of managing the bidding. Oh well, they can just print the money needed in a few millionths of a second.
1. I can dish it out, but can’t take it, so please don’t dissect my blog.
2. I’d love to see the Obama’s electric bill. I guarantee that these solar panels won’t cover 0.1% of the building’s energy needs, but once again I applaud the gesture.
Energy Secretary Chu Announces Solar Panels on White House