January 2003

Volume 12, Number 1

Solar at the White House

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Installing PV panels on a National Park Service maintenance building at the White House. Above: White House cabana showing flush-mount solar water heating system.

Photos: Evergreen Solar, Inc.Photos: Evergreen Solar, Inc.

Solar energy has returned to the White House complex. While the White House has kept pretty quiet about it, three solar installations were completed last summer on White House buildings and are now generating renewable power and hot water. Here are the details:

In July and August, three solar energy systems, designed by Steven Strong of Solar Design Associates in Harvard, Massachusetts, were installed on two separate White House buildings. The first of these, a large 8.75 peak-kilowatt photovoltaic (PV) system, was installed on the National Park Service maintenance building located in the southwest corner of the 16-acre (6.5 ha) White House grounds. This system consists of 167 EC-51 PV modules, each rated at 51 watts, manufactured by Evergreen Solar of Marlboro, Massachusetts. Three 2,500-watt Sunny Boy inverters, provided by SMA Americas (a division of the German manufacturer SMA), convert this DC electricity into AC power that is fed into the White House electricity grid.

On the same building, a residential-scale solar water heating system was installed to provide hot water for landscape maintenance personnel. This system is comprised of two 4’ x 8’ (1.2 x 2.4 m) flat-plate collectors made by SunEarth, Inc., of Ontario, California. These panels were installed using a typical stand-off mount in a drain-back configuration (for more on solar water heating, see EBN Vol. 8, No. 7/8).

The third installation is a five-panel, building-integrated solar hot water system on the White House cabana next to the presidential pool and spa. This system is integrated into a terne-coated, standing-seam copper roof. The inset design of the panels provides a relatively flush profile (see photo). Hot water produced by this system heats a hot tub and shower, with any extra energy going into the outdoor pool. The absorber plates for these panels were made by SunEarth, but the rest of the system was site-manufactured for better integration with the roof.

The PV system installation (by Aurora Energy of Annapolis, Maryland) went extremely well, according to Dr. Rex D’Agostino, Vice-President of Marketing and Sales at Evergreen. All three systems were completed and commissioned before Labor Day, and are believed to be working very well, according to D’Agostino. Performance data from the PV system is being collected, but Evergreen Solar has not yet seen it.

Working with the Park Service went very smoothly, according to Steven Strong. “They set up a brisk schedule involving many different operations and kept things moving,” he told EBN. “Despite the logistical challenges, we were done a week early.”

James Doherty, an architect with the National Park Service White House Liaison Office, managed the solar installations. “We’re very happy with the product and how it’s working for us,” Doherty told EBN. The Park Service is always looking for opportunities to promote renewable energy and sustainable design, according to Doherty, and a few years ago they decided to take advantage of the next opportunity available to “pursue that mission” at the White House.

Doherty admits that the maintenance building isn’t an ideal candidate for solar, since it is intentionally somewhat hidden by trees. He worked with Strong to identify the largest surface area available for the PV installation. He estimates that “the PV array to date has only generated slightly in excess of 1,000 kilowatt-hours.” The system was designed so that even if the building has to be partially rebuilt or reroofed, the PV system can be removed and reinstalled, according to Doherty.

When asked why there hasn’t been a bigger splash made about these installations, Doherty said that the Park Service doesn’t like to advertise what it does at the White House. “We call it ‘silent stewardship,’” he said. “We have always sought to stay in the background and not compete with what the White House does.” (At press time, EBN was still waiting for word from the White House Press Office about these installations.)

Strong considers it a privilege to have been asked to design and install solar systems at the White House. “Each solar roof is another small but important step toward greater energy self-reliance,” he told EBN. “I would hope that these installations will lead to a broader acceptance of solar energy as a way to reduce our dependence on foreign oil.”

– AW

For more information:

Solar Design Associates, Inc.

Harvard, MA 01451



Evergreen Solar, Inc.

259 Cedar Hill Street

Marlboro, MA 01752



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January 1, 2003