President Obama’s decision to install American-made solar panels on the first family’s residence was heralded as groundbreaking by many environmentalists. One reason it was so celebrated was because it marked the end of a long, uphill battle for many activist groups. After several years of petitions by many prominent enviro-activist groups, and after a failed White House promise to install solar panels in 2011, Obama’s announcement marked the end of a long road for many involved. However, a second reason it was so celebrated was because it marked the White House’s inclusion into America’s booming solar power industry.
“This project reflects President Obama’s strong commitment to U.S. leadership in solar energy and the jobs it will create here at home,” said then-Energy Secretary Steven Chu in 2010. “Deploying solar energy technologies across the country will help America lead the global economy for years to come.”
According to figures from GTM research, a photovoltaic (PV) system was being installed on a residential unit every 80 minutes in 2006. By the time Steven Chu made his speech in 2010, a PV system was being installed every 20 minutes. When President Obama officially declared that solar panels were being installed this Thursday, a PV system was being installed every 4 minutes.
“Today, President Obama’s rhetoric of the past several years finally matches reality,” Sungevity’s co-founder Danny Kennedy said Thursday. “I applaud the president for his actions but my praise is much more resounding for the hundreds of thousands of American households whose example he has followed.”
Solar power generates enough electricity to power over 1.3 million homes, according to a study by the Solar Energy Industries Association. Admittedly, America’s 30 utility-scale solar power plants are generating most of its 8,500 megawatts of solar electricity capacity. However, the addition of residential PV systems helps the industry by driving consumer demand. Indeed, the solar power industry also employs more than 120,000 people – many of whom are part of the booming manufacturing and installation business that is currently sweeping America.
If the solar power industry keeps growing at its current rate, American may very well be installing a PV system every 80 seconds by 2016. At such a fast rate, the US may be welcoming its 1 millionth residential solar installation by the end of that year. This puts it at a much greater position than any other alternative energy source in America. It seems, then, almost fitting that the first alternative energy source to power the White House was neither wind energy nor biofuel, but solar energy. With any luck, such a rapidly developing industry will help Obama reach his goal of having 20 percent of the federal government’s energy come from alternative energy sources by 2020.