Obama won't be the first U.S. President to install solar on the roof of the White House.  And his efforts would be better spent crafting a consistent and intelligent energy policy and creating a fertile environment for the U.S. solar industry.  Instead, we get a sideshow.

Yes, President Carter installed solar on the White House and President Reagan removed the panels.  There's been a bit of noise of late about solar going back on the White House roofs -- but the saga is deeper than that.

George Bush is involved, but Bill Clinton is not. 

Steven Strong is a leading authority on integrating renewable energy systems, especially solar, in buildings in North America. Strong's firm consults to architects on the integration of solar power, and to the building industry on product development through his firm, Solar Design Associates.  He has quite possibly been doing it longer than anyone else.

Over the past 25 years, Steven has designed scores of solar buildings, including the world's first PV-powered neighborhood in central Massachusetts in 1984, and in what was the world's largest PV installation at the time -- the Natatorium Complex at the 1996 Olympic Summer Games facilities in Atlanta.

Amongst his many photovoltaic installation accomplishments, Strong was involved in a semi-clandestine solar mission -- deploying solar in the less-than-friendly environment of the Bush/Cheney White House compound at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C. "The dialogue actually began with the prior tenant," Strong explained.  "But Clinton was distracted by interns and impeachment," and Strong never heard from the Clinton people after that.

Then, nine months after the start of the W. administration, Strong visited the site and spent the entire day with the White House architect.  They looked at all the potential siting opportunities, excepting the main mansion, which is "covered with spook stuff."  (Side note: the White House grounds are managed by the Parks Service.) Strong ended up helping design and install a 10kW+ photovoltaic system and two thermal solar systems within the compound.  All the inverters had to go to the Secret Service warehouse for clearance, presumably for inspection for listening devices and explosives. 

The system was installed on one of those rare occasions when the President was at his ranch clearing brush and the VP was at an undisclosed location. If you wonder why you didn't hear more about this seemingly positive news from the W. press office -- well, in an administration that had a VP saying things like, "conservation may be a sign of personal virtue, but it is not a sufficient basis for a sound, comprehensive energy policy," the presence of PV on the White House never made it on to their list of talking points.

U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu and Council of Environmental Quality (CEQ) Chair Nancy Sutley today announced plans to install solar panels and a solar hot water heater on the roof of the White House Residence. These two solar installations will be part of a DOE demonstration project showing that American solar technologies are available, reliable, and ready for installation in homes throughout the country. 

The announcement did not include the name of the vendor that will be providing the "American solar technologies."

It remains to be seen what the Palin administration will do with these panels in 2013.