Just last month, people were wondering why the Obama White House would not install solar panels, even when asked point blank to do so. This week we have an update: The White House will install solar panels and a solar water heater on the roof. The first family will join the millions of Americans who derive some of their power from the sun.
The announcement renews a commitment to renewable power that began more than thirty years ago when solar panels went up on the Carter White House. But this time, there is a twist. In addition to agreeing to install solar panels, the White House will select the solar provider through a competitive bidding process managed by the Department of Energy.
It’s a testament to both the remarkable growth the solar sector has seen since the 1970s that today there are a multitude of commercial solar technology providers that can compete on price.
But, it is also important to remember that not all of the improvement since then has been good for the United States. While it is fair to assume that the White House will use American-made solar technology, the reality is that most of the world’s solar technology – including much of that used in the U.S. – is made in China. And that reality will make the moment when those solar panels finally go up on the White House roof somewhat bittersweet.
While solar technology has become widespread, too many solar technology jobs – like so many oil industry and manufacturing jobs — are now based overseas. To achieve true energy security, the U.S. needs to focus not just on producing our own power, but on making the underlying equipment and technology.