A new study from Tufts University and the University of California, Berkeley shows that neighborhoods that are primarily African-American or Hispanic are likely to have less rooftop solar than neighborhoods that are primarily Caucasian. That’s even when accounting for other factors like household income and the rate of home ownership.
Looking at median household income, the study found that neighborhoods with a black majority of residents have installed 69 percent less rooftop PV and neighborhoods with a Hispanic majority of residents have installed 30 percent less rooftop PV than in those neighborhoods where one racial group is dominant. Caucasian-dominated neighborhoods are likely to have 21 percent more rooftop solar than in neighborhoods where no racial group is dominant.
Previous studies have focussed on racial disparities in the solar workforce. On that front The Solar Foundation and the Solar Energy Industries Association’s Women’s Empowerment Committee have made recommendations to address the issues. But this may be the first that focussed on the differences in solar in neighborhoods on a racial basis.
“Solar power is crucial to meeting the climate goals presented by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, but we can and need to deploy solar more broadly so that it benefits all people, regardless of race and ethnicity,” said Deborah Sunter, Ph.D., an assistant professor of mechanical engineering at the School of Engineering at Tufts, and the study’s lead author, which was published in the journal Nature Sustainability. “Solar energy can be a resource for climate protection and social empowerment.”
The study also looked at the impact of homeownership in neighborhoods across the country. It found that “Black- and Hispanic-majority census tracts have installed less rooftop PV compared to no-majority tracts by 61 percent and 45 percent, respectively, while white-majority census tracts installed 37 percent more.”
“Advances in remote sensing and in ‘big data’ science enable us not only to take a unique look at where solar is deployed but also to combine that with census and demographic data to chart who gets to benefit from the solar energy revolution,” said Sergio Castellanos, Ph.D., a research faculty at UC Berkeley’s Energy and Resources Group and the California Institute for Energy and Environment (CIEE). “This information allows us to think more deeply about the effectiveness of current policies and approaches to accelerating solar PV (photovoltaics) deployment.”
The researchers said they combined data from Google’s Project Sunroof with demographic data from the US Census Bureau. That data included household income, home ownership, and ethnicity and race. Google has data on more than 60 million rooftops and nearly 2 million solar installations, according to the authors. That’s higher than a recent Stanford University study and its DeepSolar AI, which found that there are roughly 1.47 million solar rooftops in the country.
“Our work illustrates that while solar can be a powerful tool for climate protection and social equity, a lack of access or a lack of outreach to all segments of society can dramatically weaken the social benefit,” said Daniel Kammen, Ph.D., former science envoy for the US State Department, and current professor and chair of the Energy and Resources Group, professor in the Goldman School of Policy, and professor of Nuclear Engineering at UC Berkeley.
The study noted that more research is needed to help determine what the root causes of the differences are. The researchers observed that the study could be useful in developing more inclusive energy infrastructure policies at the state and federal level.Tweet