Bob the Builder and PV roof systems

The other day, my 17-month-old son and I were watching the cartoon "Bob the Builder." If you've never seen it, the episodes usually involve some sort of construction project that Bob and his team of talking equipment must complete. Their mantra: "Can we build it? Yes, we can."

In the episode we were watching, Bob and his team were tasked with building an eco-friendly storage facility complete with a photovoltaic (PV) roof system. Seeing a PV roof system pop up in a cartoon was startling enough, but upon further investigation, I discovered the episode originally aired in 2006. Bob, it seems, was ahead of the curve.

Presumably catching on to the energy-savings potential of PV systems (and, perhaps, stealing the catch phrase "Yes, we can") is President Obama. Recently, Secretary of Energy Steven Chu announced the government plans to install PV panels atop the White House by spring 2011.

Because the system is not yet designed, it is unclear how much the White House project will cost and how much fossil fuel-based electricity it would displace. Based on available roof space, administration officials expect the PV system will include 25 to 75 panels and convert sunlight into 19,700 kilowatt-hours of electricity per year. That would save a typical household $2,300 per year on its electric bill based on Washington, D.C.,'s commercial rates. A solar hot water heating system could save an additional $1,000 per year.