Jason Carney is on a mission.
As often the only African American in solar industry meetings, conferences, and gatherings, the Nashville, Tennessee, entrepreneur has dedicated himself to making solar energy accessible to the Black community in his hometown, NPR reported in 2019.
Carney is the founder and CEO of Energy Electives and president of the Tennessee Solar Energy Association.
Solar has been the top technology for new electricity-generating capacity in the United States for four years running, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association, and 700,000 homeowners added solar installations in 2022.
NPR reported in 2019 that neighborhoods with at least 50% African Americans or Latinos had much less rooftop solar than white-majority areas or locales without a racial or ethnic majority.
“This held true even after accounting for differences in household income and homeownership,” NPR’s Andrea Hsu reported, noting Black and Hispanic-majority census tracts had installed 69% less solar than no-majority census tracts after accounting for household income differences and 61% after accounting for homeownership differences.
“Equity isn’t just who’s bearing the disproportionate burdens of the world, but it’s also who’s missing out on the benefits,” Tufts University assistant professor Deborah Sunter told NPR.
Sunter has since published a study about why people of color installed rooftop solar at lower rates than whites. One hypothesis, as NPR reported, was that they were less likely to know someone in the industry. Another was that they didn’t see much solar around them.
Black people made up 9% of the national solar workforce in 2022 (it was 7.6% in 2018 according to NPR), while their proportion in the workforce was 13% overall, according to the Interstate Renewable Energy Council’s 2022 national solar jobs census. The percentage of women in the industry (31%) is also well below the proportion in the national workforce (over 50%).
The lack of affordable energy solutions in Nashville was problematic to Carney.
“Bottom line is, the houses are old,” he told NPR. “And when the houses are old, they’re less efficient. Insulation may have never been there, according to old codes that aren’t as good as the codes are today. Or it’s old and sagging and not doing what it used to do. Roofs may need to be updated. HVAC units [may be] out of whack.”
NPR reported that Carney’s advocacy included becoming a mentor at majority-Black, majority-low-income Whites Creek High School. Among other endeavors, he helped students design and build a solar array next to the school.
“No one controls the sun,” he said. “If someone could, they would, but they can’t. Right now all you need is knowledge. You need to understand how it works. And you need to have faith in yourself to go after it.”
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