White House Solar Panels: Good Idea?

Is putting solar panels on the White House is the best idea at this moment?  Several things  to think about on the minus and plus side.  Symbolism is certainly essential when it comes to innovation. Still, this  may be the wrong symbolic gesture, going into this particular election. Jimmy Carter put solar panels on, Ronald Reagan took them off.

Second, the economics of solar panels, especially in a non-sun-belt area like DC,  still depend on government subsidies and cheap borrowing costs. Here’s a graphic on the levelized cost of electricity by different technologies, without government subsidies. This is based on Department of Energy projections for 2016.  

So the government is borrowing this money from overseas, basically,  to increase its net energy costs.

That needn’t be a bad thing. Government spending is often necessary to get economies of scale for manufacturing and improving new technologies.  But if we want our borrowing to be worthwhile,  those benefits of government spending have to stay in the U.S.  We  have to make sure that our net trade gap in photovoltaic cells and modules decreases, not increases, and that our domestic PV manufacturing continues to grow.  One possibility: More subsidies for domestic PV manufacturing.  Does that violate WTO rules?


  1. We might not have to violate trade rules; I would not be shocked at all, given the mercantilist tendencies of China, that they are blatantly breaking WTO rules in regards to solar panels. Why not just bring a formal complaint against them? Given that China is the world leader in PV solar panel production, it might be an easy way to skirt the whole legality issue.


  1. […] Mike Mandel commenting on the Obama administration’s decision to install solar panels on the White House posted this chart(click for larger view). […]

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