In an effort to provide a dramatic example of solar energy use, a House committee yesterday approved a plan to install 900 solar collector panels on the roof of the Rayburn House Office Building on Independence Avenue.
The parcels, with a 36,000-gallon connecting hot water storage system, would provide 46 per cent of the building's space and water heating requirements, according to a study by a private consultant. The system would cost about $1.4 million, paying for itself in energy savings in 15.7 years, the study said.
Meanwhile, at the White House yesterday, a spokesman said that the solar system that President Carter promised for the mansion on Sun Day last May 1 has not yet come into being.
"We don't know what we're going to have or where, but I think in the next few weeks they're going to make a decision," said the spokesman.
Denis Hayes, chairman of the solar Lobby, which grew out of Sun Day and the many groups that sponsored it, said yesterday's congressional action on the Rayburn Building "has a certain symbolic importance." He added:
"Congress had been talking about solar energy for a long time, but those folks out in Peoria look at Washington and ask themselves. 'Are they hypocrites back there?' So if Congress starts putting (solar systems) in their own buildings, it's important."
Yesterday's Hill action was a voice-vote approval by the Committee on Public Works and Transportation of a bill authorizing a total of $3 million for solar systems on the Rayburn Building and a large House annex building at 2nd Street and Virginia Avenue SW.
An amendment suggested by Rep. Barry Goldwater Jr. (R-Calif.) requires the Capitol architect to submit his designs and cost estimates to the committee before construction bids can be let - an effort to control potential cost overruns.
The bill now goes to the House floor. Congressional aides said the actual appropriation of money for the projects could not be submitted for House Senate approval until next spring. J. Raymond Carroll, director of engineering for the architect of the Capitol, said it would probably be next fall before bids could be let.
For esthetic reasons, the Capitol architect's office stipulated that the Rayburn solar collectors not be visible from Independence Avenue or from the Capitol grounds.
According to the study by Silver Associates of Chevy Chase, the panels could all face south and their structural supporting system would have to be enclosed on the north side with a material that generally would match the building facade.
The flat panels are about 3 by 8 feet in size and are installed at a tilt to catch the sun's rays to best advantage. The flat surface of such a panel is painted black and is covered with a glass plate. Water that runs between the flat surface and the glass is heated and then stored in hidden tanks. Its energy then can be used for heating and even cooling.
The Virginia Avenue annex building can have a solar cooling component for summer air conditioning, the study said. But the big cooling towers and other sizeable equipment needed for this could not be installed on the Rayburn Building under the esthetic constraints, it said.
Solar collectors are an expanding technology, but the idea behind the Rayburn plan is to show it can be done with existing technology. Another idea appears to be to goad the U.S. Department of Energy, which this year is spending about $400 million on solar demonstration projects and research.
"I think there's a kind of feeling here that there's not enough push (on solar projects) in DOE," said Hal Stemmler, an aide to Rep. Norman Y. Mineta (D-Calif.). sponsor of the Rayburn bill.