Energy Secretary Chu's White Roof Fetish

Meet Obama’s Nobel Prize-winning green guru and his bizarre plan to stop climate change.

U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu’s off-beat idea of painting roofs white all across America is an initiative he has been promoting eagerly, the Voice of AmericaNews.com reported Sept. 21. Now he wants white roofs all over the world. That won’t be easy in countries with thatched roofs. Chu is President Obama’s Nobel prize-winning green guru. So, what’s with the white fetish?

A coat of white paint on a roof can lower both carbon emissions and cost, Chu has contended. The concept he espouses is this: as sunlight beams down on us, roughly half the energy shines as light. The light heats our rooftops. If the roof is white, the sunlight will reflect off the roof instead of heating the roof’s surface. By reducing the need for energy that cools our homes and offices, tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions could be saved, slowing global warming.

Chu won the Nobel in 1997 with two other scientists for devising methods to trap atoms with lasers. He’s certainly no climatologist. No matter, apparently, that increasing numbers of respected scientists have doubts about global warming. In fact, many eminent scientists now claim the world has entered a “cold mode” which is likely to bring a dip in global temperatures that will last 20 to 30 years, the Daily Mail of London reported in January. Some politicians, but few scientists, still believe in the catastrophic forecasts that helped Al Gore acquire hundreds of millions of dollars with his fright tactics.

There’s no reason to restrict cool roofs only in America, in Chu’s thinking. At a Nobel laureate symposium in London, he suggested that the world’s roofs should all be painted white as part of the effort to control the climate. He described climate change as a “crisis situation,” calling also for “wind, wave and solar” to supply energy for the globe. His own Energy Department has compiled statistics showing the lack of promise for such renewable energy sources at any time in the calculable future.

The Sunday London Times also reported that Chu said building regulations “should insist that all flat roofs [be] painted white,” and visible tilted roofs could be painted with “cool-colored” paints which absorbed much less heat than conventional dark surfaces. He also recommended that roads could be lightened to a concrete color so they would not dazzle drivers in bright sunlight. “I think with flat-type roofs...yes, I think you should regulate.” Spoken like a true-blue patron of bureaucratic control.

In his passion for cool roofs on government buildings, Secretary Chu directed all Energy Department offices to install white roofs during new construction, when replacing old roofs and whenever an installation is cost-effective over the lifetime of the roof, The New York Times reported in January. In a news release July 19 he urged other federal agencies to follow suit. The Energy Department (DOE) has 10,500 buildings. The Federal government owns or leases 500,000 buildings. That’s a lot of white paint.

“President Obama and Secretary Chu have made clear that the federal government should play a leading role in moving the nation toward a more sustainable future,” the DOE press release said. Under President Obama’s Executive Order on Sustainability, issued Oct. 5, 2009, the federal government has committed to reducing its greenhouse gas emissions 28 percent by 2020.”

Secretary Chu said, “Cool roofs are one of the quickest and low cost ways we can reduce our global carbon emissions. By demonstrating the benefits of cool roofs on our facilities, the federal government can lead the nation toward more sustainable building practices.” To nudge commercial builders as well as heads of other federal agencies to install cool roofs, DOE released its “Guidelines for Selecting Cool Roofs," which provides technical assistance on types of roofing materials and how to select the roof that will work best on a specific facility.” In other words, roofing professionals are idiots who need government to take their hand and lead them in what the typical roofing contractor has been doing all his working life.

A study by Lawrence Berkley National Laboratory, which Chu points to proudly, found that installing a cool roof reduced the daily peak roof surface temperature of each building and could reduce energy use expended to operate cooling equipment by up to 52 percent. The DOE “Guidelines” manual acknowledged that “converting a roof that is in good condition into a cool roof can cost more. For example, if you want to coat your new dark roof just to make it a cool roof, the additional cost can be significant.”

Chu boasted that the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), an agency of the Department of Energy, has installed more than two million square feet of cool and white roofs at NNSA across the county, expecting to save $10 million in energy costs over the next 15 years.

What Chu doesn’t mention is the fact that a high-tech roofing product—now several years after being developed--has revolutionized the building industry, according to a report from the Oak Ridge National Laboratory. It consists of reflective pigments that make a dark roof reflect almost like a white roof.  “To homeowners, dark roofs simply look better than...white roofs,” and the “aesthetically pleasing dark roof can be made to reflect like a white roof in the near infrared spectrum,” assured the 2004 report.

To be practical about roofs, shouldn’t it be acknowledged that a large part of the United States and the rest of the world lie in cold climates where a dark roof that attracts some heat from the sun is welcomed? The only white on many of these roofs is snow in the winter. And that doesn’t cost anything to install.

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