6 Ways to Green the White House
High-tech green systems can make the White House the ultimate eco showcase.
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April 01, 2009 by Steven Castle

President Barack Obama has announced his intention to “green” the White House, beyond former President Bill Clinton’s and George W. Bush’s efforts that saw more efficient heating and cooling systems and solar electric (PV) and solar thermals systems installed.

According to Steven Strong Solar Design Associates, which designed and installed the current White House system in 2002, the White House has 10 kilowatts of Evergreen photovoltaic panels and two solar thermal systems, one for domestic hot water and another for the pool, hot tub and cabana showers. The 10 kw of solar electric is likely a fraction of what the White House and West Wing offices need to get all of their electrical power from the sun, and Strong would love to see a solar PV array sprout on the South Lawn to go with the Obamas’ new garden. 

Sounds like a great idea. After all, the White House is said to be a technological showcase for its many visitors. But let’s go even further and make the it a showpiece of high-tech green innovation that will be the envy of the world. Mr. President, here is a golden opportunity to strut America’s innovative stuff.

I’m not sure exactly what high-tech green systems the White House already has in place—that may be a security breach—but here are six things it should have:

Energy Monitoring—The White House already has a solar electric (PV) system, a solar thermal system for hot water and pool heating. How about a way to monitor the savings from these systems, as well as a way to monitor the White House’s overall energy consumption and consumption in various rooms? Commercial-grade systems such as Agilewaves and Lucid Design Group’s Building Dashboard are perfect for this. The public should also be allowed to see the results on a web portal. By the way, studies show that when people have access to information on the amount of energy they are using, they save 5 percent to 15 percent more. We wonder how the White House folks would fare.

Lighting Control Systems—President Obama says he goes around his regular house shutting off lights, and would do the same in the White House. But in a place with 132 rooms? His time is better served on other issues. So if the White House doesn’t yet have an electronic lighting control system, it should. Systems from Lutron, Crestron, LiteTouch, Vantage, Lightolier and others can turn on or shut off lights throughout the house to save energy. And say Obama gets into bed and remembers he left the light on in the Oval Office? No sweat. He can shut it off with a control on his nightstand. How cool is that?

LED Lighting—The White House supposedly has compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) throughout. Well, it’s time that old technology was tossed (responsibly, because those have small traces of mercury in them) and replaced with even more efficient and longer-lasting LEDs (light emitting diodes). The technology is ready, with companies like Philips Color Kinetics, Cooper Lighting and others are introducing PAR-type LED recessed lighting lamps. All those landscape floodlights that make the White House look so great at night should be LED-based as well.

Motorized Draperies—I can’t help but notice that there are a lot of windows in the White House, and many of them face south. That’s great for allowing lots of daylight into a space, which can save on lighting costs. It could also help to heat rooms in the winter. But what do you do when the sun gets too hot in the warmer months? Send a worker around to manually close the drapes? That is so 20th century. Instead, get motorized draperies and solar shades, and automate them so they open to allow daylight in and close to block excessive heat. Many companies, including Lutron, Somfy Systems, Solar Shading Systems, MechoShade, Am-Source and others would gladly install such systems.

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Steven Castle - Contributing Writer
Steven Castle is Electronic House's managing editor. he has been writing about consumer electronics, homes and energy efficiency topics for two decades. He is also the co-founder of GreenTech Advocates.

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