Majority African-American and Hispanic-American census tracts in the United States are far less likely then majority-white areas to have solar panels on their roofs, according to a new study in the journal Nature Sustainability.
Researchers from Tufts University and the University of California, Berkeley took data from Google’s Project Sunroof, an initiative which “shows the potential for rooftop PV on 60 million buildings throughout the United States and accounts for 58% of the national potential for energy generation from rooftop solar,” Greentech Media reports. But the response to that potential depends in large part on the skin colour of the householder.
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”In census tracts with the same median household income, communities with over 50% black residents have 69% less rooftop solar installed than tracts with no racial or ethnic majority,” Greentech states. “Majority Hispanic census tracts had 30% less installed. Majority white communities, by contrast, had 21% more rooftop solar installed than tracts with no racial or ethnic majority.”
Furthermore, “among the census groups that the study looked at, 47% of majority black census tracts had no solar installations at all. That’s well above the 24% of majority Hispanic census tracts without any solar installations—the census group with the next highest percentage of the population without solar PV.”
The study authors said the low uptake in non-white communities is likely due to “the whiteness of the solar industry’s work force,” Greentech adds. In 2017, the Solar Foundation’s U.S. Solar Industry Diversity Study found the industry was 74% white.
“A significant step toward serving all communities across the country is making sure that our industry internally is very inclusive,” said Melanie Santiago-Mosier, access and equity program director at Vote Solar. “She also said the industry, along with partners, is working to remedy its abysmal representation numbers,” Greentech adds, citing the NAACP’s Solar Equity Initiative as an effort to “connect communities of colour and low-income communities with solar infrastructure and provide solar job training.”
Santiago-Mosier “also said it’s essential for the industry to build partnerships on the ground with community organizations in underserved communities,” the industry publication notes. “That’s especially important because communities of colour have been and continue to be disproportionately impacted by pollution from fossil fuels. Grassroots organizations in these communities have long fought against the unequal environmental impacts they’ve faced. “
“The promise of solar energy is one of lower and stabilized utility bills, investments in local economies, and healthier communities, Santiago-Mosier said. “This is an industry that was founded on the desire to do better,” but that will mean using the data now available to decide where to deploy and grow.
“Ultimately, if [the industry] wants to maximize adoption, they’re going to have to understand and address what these challenges and issues are that are resulting in minority communities basically being left out of this growth,” said lead author and Tufts mechanical engineer Deborah Sunter. “If there isn’t intervention, it’s likely this disparity could continue to grow.”