Obama’s Rooftop Solar Panel: Back to the Future Carter

Energy Secy. Steven Chu kicked off a three-day federal “sustainability” symposium today by announcing that the Department of Energy will install solar rooftop water-heating panels on . . . the White House.

“Around the world, the White House is a symbol of freedom and democracy,” Chu told an audience of federal employees, according to Greenwire, the online energy & environment news service. “It should also be a symbol of America’s commitment to a clean energy future.”

Apparently, nobody interviewed in connection with the article sees anything goofy about the mighty DOE and the White House trying to save the planet one rooftop at a time. Nor anything comedic in talking about the future of presidential bath and shower water.

Chu’s announcement came one month after eco-activist Bill McKibben led a demonstration demanding that President Obama install rooftop solar panels. To show that if you will it, it is not a dream (okay, I’m editorializing here), McKibben presented White House officials with a solar panel from Jimmy Carter’s White House.  Initially, they rebuffed him. But now, they’ve taken one small symbolic step back to the future Carter!  Of course, McKibben hails Chu’s pledge as a giant step for mankind.

“The White House did the right thing, and for the right reasons: They listened to the Americans who asked for solar on their roof, and they listened to the scientists and engineers who told them this is the path to the future,” said McKibben, the co-founder of the nonprofit 350.org. “If it has anything like the effect of the White House garden, it could be a trigger for a wave of solar installations across the country and around the world.”

Yup, hardly anybody “across the country and around the world” would be planting flowers or “installing” flower gardens  if the White House had not shown the way via those Rose Garden tours!

Apparently, nobody interviewed by Greenwire wanted to mention the elephant in the room, namely, that McKibben’s symbolic victory is a far cry from the political victory Team Obama and eco-campaigners boasted they would win by enacting cap-and-trade.

Ive got nothing against solar technology, which has come a long way since the Carter days. Nonetheless, outside of certain niche markets and applications, solar is not competitive with fossil energy or even with other so-called non-hydroelectric renewable energies. See slide #21 of the Energy Information Administration’s Power Point presentation on its 2010 Annual Energy Outlook report.

Yes, solar power has enjoyed a rapid growth spurt in Germany, but that is due market-rigging subsidies known as feeder tariffs. If an industry cannot sustain itself without special policy privileges, does it really deserve to be called “sustainable”?