University Study Finds Racial Disparity in Solar Panel Installations

A new study authored by researchers at Tufts University in Massachusetts and the University of California, Berkeley, has found that the deployment of solar panels has predominately occurred in White neighborhoods, even after controlling for household income and levels of home ownership.

The research team combined data from Google’s Project Sunroof on existing rooftop solar installations across the United States with demographic data, including household income, home ownership, and ethnicity and race, from the U.S. Census Bureau. The Project Sunroof data includes information on more than 60 million rooftops and almost 2 million solar installations.

The results found that for Black-majority neighborhoods with similar income levels there are 69 percent less rooftop solar panels installed compared to same-income neighborhoods where no single race or ethnicity makes up the majority of the population. When correcting for home ownership, Black neighborhoods installed 61 percent less solar panels.

The authors believe that more research is needed to help determine the root causes of the racial disparity. They believe their findings could be useful in developing better and more inclusive energy infrastructure policy and outcomes.

“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, professor of nuclear engineering at the university of California, Berkeley.

“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 lead author Deborah Sunter, assistant professor of mechanical engineering at Tufts University. “Solar energy can be a resource for climate protection and social empowerment.”

The full study, “Disparities in Rooftop Photovoltaics Deployment in the United States by Race and Ethnicity,” was published in the journal Nature Sustainability. It may be accessed here.

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