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New study uncovers major equity gap in clean energy generation: 'We were astonished to see there is still such a large difference'

"Our research is supposed to contribute to narrowing the equity gap."

"Our research is supposed to contribute to narrowing the equity gap."

Photo Credit: iStock

A Stanford University study has revealed that a renewable energy generation gap exists between wealthy and disadvantaged communities, despite the latter being the group that would most benefit from cheaper power.

While the 40% less energy generated by disadvantaged communities is a disappointing statistic when compared to wealthy areas, the study also outlined ways to improve access.

The Stanford study, summarized by Grist, suggests that installing solar panels on the roofs of strip malls, schools, factories, and other large commercial or non-residential buildings and then creating a power-sharing agreement with disadvantaged communities could deliver as much as a fifth of the power these households require.

"We were astonished to see there is still such a large difference," study lead author Moritz Wussow, a data and climate scientist, told the publication. "The renewable energy transition is one of the big pillars of where the government is seeking to spend money. Our research is supposed to contribute to narrowing the equity gap, and to provide an idea of how this can be accomplished."

Indeed, government initiatives like the Inflation Reduction Act are intended to make access to money-saving technologies like solar panels and heat pumps easier, with incentives, price reductions, and tax breaks on offer. But with so many large buildings having abundant roof space and sun exposure, partnering with non-residential property owners for residential power production could make use of a huge untapped source of energy.

Stanford used an AI-powered database of satellite imagery to inform its findings, examining available roof space of 1,000 square feet or more in the United States. It was determined that even in Alaska, where there is limited sun exposure for a percentage of the year, installing panels on non-residential buildings could deliver financial savings to residents and meet 20% of energy needs. 

Another way to provide clean energy for disadvantaged areas is through community solar projects, in which residents and local businesses join forces to create a small-scale solar farm to help participants cut their energy bills.

Schemes like this will also help to reduce reliance on an energy grid that is still mostly powered by dirty fuel. This would limit the amount of planet-warming pollution produced by energy needs, which is vital to halt rising temperatures that are leading to increased reliance on costly, energy-sapping air conditioning that keep homes cool and prevent heat-related illnesses.

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