Students show that a solar panel used on the roof of the White House during Jimmy Carter's presidency can still heat water. These students traveled to the White House to try and convince President Obama to reinstall the solar panel. PHOTO: 350.org
Students show that a solar panel used on the roof of the White House during Jimmy Carter’s presidency can still heat water. These students traveled to the White House to try and convince President Obama to reinstall the solar panel. PHOTO: 350.org

By JYOTHI NATARAJAN

The sun’s energy will heat water for the First Family and provide some electricity in the White House starting in the spring of 2011. On October 5, the President announced a plan to install solar panels on the roof of the White House.

Solar panels were first installed on the roof of the White House in 1979 under President Jimmy Carter. At the time, Carter announced a plan for the United States to get 20 percent of its energy from renewable sources (energy that comes from sources that never run out such as sunlight, wind and rain) by 2000. In 1986, President Ronald Reagan took down the White House solar panels and they were eventually taken to Unity College in Maine. By January 2010, renewable energy made up approximately 7.7 percent of the electricity produced in the United States.

In September 2010, environmental activist Bill McKibben organized a group of students at Unity College to travel to Washington, DC with one of the original Carter solar panels. Their idea to re-install the panels used by President Carter was rejected by the White House. “They refused to accept the Carter panel as a historic relic, or even to pose for a picture with the students. . . they point blank said no,” McKibben said. A few weeks following their trip, they heard of President Obama’s decision to install new solar panels on them White House roof.

Solar panels use light energy from the sun to create electricity through a process called the “photovoltaic effect.”