In 2010, President Barack Obama’s then-Energy Secretary Steven Chu announced that a demonstration of a commitment to increasing renewable power would take place in the form of solar photovoltaic (PV) panels and solar hot water being installed on the roof of the White House. Fast forward to now, August of 2013, and it has happened. It took 40 months, but solar panels are now installed on the White House roof. And, incidentally, business owners and homeowners across the U.S. have also installed solar on their rooftops since 2010 to the extent that solar power has quadrupled during Obama’s administration.
Advocates of solar energy, to a large extent, are more frustrated than congratulatory about the new White House solar panels. After all, as many see it, Obama has not provided an example of leadership to Americans by the way the solar project has been delayed. There are also many initiatives he could have implemented as President which would have made much more significant advancements to solar, many argue. And there is no denying that Obama is far more famous for the failure of Solyndra, a bankrupt solar manufacturing company which received a $535 million federal loan guarantee, than he is for an increase in U.S. solar installations.
While they can’t all be attributed to Obama, let’s look at various solar advancements which have taken place during his Presidential term:
- The capacity for electricity generation with solar technologies is close to four times what it was when President Obama took office.
- In 2012 alone, solar power capacity in the U.S. was increased by 3.3 gigawatts, which is a stunning amount. New solar power capacity that was added last year was greater than the previous three years combined – and they also marked great solar strides.
- President George Bush signed an 8 year Investment Tax Credit into law in 2008, but few utilized the tax credit during his tenure due to the global recession that was underway at the time. The Section 1603 Treasury Grant Program (TGP) took the 30% investment tax credit and allowed the credit to be claimed as a grant for renewable energy project developers. In short, developers which did not have tax equity access were able to claim the tax credit at the startup of construction, which benefited the solar industry tremendously. In fact, in solar projects encompassing all 50 states, awards were made to about 44,000 domestic solar projects which leveraged over $7.17 billion in private sector investments as of September 2012.
- In spite of serious economic downturns in the U.S., the solar industry has grown enormously, due to the TGP, in large part.
- It is estimated that the TGP has supported approximately 60,000 jobs in recent years.
- Stimulus funding in the amount of $16 billion went to fund the pre-existing Loan Guarantee Programs of the U.S. Department of Energy. A full 87% of this huge sum of money backed loans mostly to solar and wind power generation projects. Only a small part of the funds funded technology start-ups such as Solyndra.
The story of solar power being installed at the White House has previously been a dismal one. For example, President Carter installed solar panels and President Reagan had them removed. Let’s hope the panels now installed are there to stay and that the current and future administrations will take a stronger lead in advancing a switch to solar power and other renewable energy sources.