Who Benefits From the Solar Energy Revolution?
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Who Benefits From the Solar Energy Revolution?

The solar energy revolution has been slowly moving through America, but a new study performed by researchers at UC Berkeley and Tufts University shows that not everyone is benefitting equally from the technology’s availability.

The researchers combined census track information with remote sensing data from Google’s Project Sunroof and realized the huge racial disparity in rooftop solar photovoltaics.

Daniel Kammen, professor and chair of energy in the Energy and Resources Group and professor in the Goldman School of Public Policy and director of the Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory, said, “Our work illustrates that while solar can be a powerful tool for climate protection and social equity, biases and barriers to access can dramatically weaken the social benefit.”

Social Bias

Looking at households with the same average household income, black- and Hispanic-majority census tracts had fewer rooftop solar photovoltaics installed compared with those areas with no majority ethnic group, by 69 and 30 percent, respectively. White-majority census tracts had installed 21 percent more.

When correcting for home ownership, black- and Hispanic-majority census tracts had fewer rooftop photovoltaics installed by 61 and 45 percent, respectively, compared with no-majority tracts, while white-majority census tracts had installed 37 percent more.

“The Green New Deal and other environmental justice efforts can use our findings to build a better and more inclusive energy transition,” said Kammen, also a fellow of the Berkeley Institute for Data Science as well as a former Science Envoy for the U.S. State Department.

Sergio Castellanos, a postdoctoral scholar in the Energy and Resources Group and research faculty in the Center for Energy and the Environment, said:

“Advances in remote sensing and in ‘big data’ science mean that we are now able to take a unique look at not just where solar is deployed, but to combine that with census and demographic data to chart also who gets to benefit from the solar energy revolution, and therefore think deeper about the effectiveness of current policies and approaches to accelerate solar photovoltaic deployment.”

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