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President Jimmy Carter speaks against a backdrop of solar panels at the White House in 1979.

U.S. President Barack Obama is going green with plans to install solar panels at the White House.

The solar panels are to be installed atop the White House's living quarters by spring 2011 and will heat water for the Obama family and supply some electricity.

Former presidents Jimmy Carter and George W. Bush both tapped the sun during their days in the White House. Carter in the late 1970s spent $30,000 US on a solar water-heating system for West Wing offices. Bush's solar systems powered a maintenance building and some of the mansion, and heated water for the pool.

Obama, who has championed renewable energy, has been under increasing pressure to lead by example by installing solar at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, something White House officials said has been under consideration since he first took office.

The decision perhaps has more import now after legislation to reduce global warming pollution died in the Senate, despite the White House's support. Obama has vowed to try again on a smaller scale.

Last month, global warming activists with 350.org carried one of Carter's solar panels — which were removed in 1986 during Ronald Reagan's presidency — from Unity College in Maine to Washington to urge Obama to put solar panels on his roof. It was part of a global campaign to persuade world leaders to install solar panels on their homes. After a meeting with White House officials, they left Washington without a commitment.

That campaign followed calls by the solar industry for the White House to become a national billboard for solar power.

"Putting solar on the roof of the nation's most important real estate is a powerful symbol calling on all Americans to rethink how we generate electricity," Solar Energy Industries Association president Rhone Resch said.