Tag Archives: Department od Energy

Tufts University study: Racial inequality in the deployment of rooftop solar energy in the United States

11 Jan

The Department of Energy described the use of solar energy:

Despite this impressive progress, significant work remains before solar becomes as affordable as conventional energy sources and meets its full potential throughout the country. Solar hardware costs have fallen dramatically, but market barriers and grid integration challenges continue to hinder greater deployment. Non-hardware solar “soft costs”—such as permitting, financing, and customer acquisition—are becoming an increasingly larger fraction of the total cost of solar and now constitute up to 55% of the cost of a residential system.4 Technological advances and innovative solutions are still needed to increase efficiency, drive down costs, and enable utilities to rely on solar for baseload power.
1See: http://www.seia.org/research-resources/us-solar-market-insight
2The Solar Foundation. National Solar Jobs Census. See: http://www.thesolarfoundation.org/national/
3National Renewable Energy Laboratory and U.S. Department of Energy. SunShot Vision Study. Feb. 2012. pp.4-5. See: http://energy.gov/eere/sunshot/sunshot-vision-study.
4National Renewable Energy Laboratory. Dec. 2013. See: http://www.nrel.gov/news/press/2013/5306.html.
https://www.energy.gov/eere/solarpoweringamerica/solar-energy-united-states

If use of solar technology is to become more widely used, income issues must be addressed.

Peter Hanlon wrote in The Middle Class is Driving the Solar Revolution:

According to some fascinating new research by the Center for American Progress, the American middle class is overwhelmingly driving the solar revolution. After looking at certain demographics of households that installed solar panels in Arizona, California and New Jersey (the three top solar states), the analysis found three common trends:
1. At least 60 percent of homeowners are installing solar panels in zip codes with median incomes ranging from $40,000 to $90,000. (In Arizona that figure jumps to 80 percent.)
2. The distribution of solar installations across income levels lines up closely with population distribution. In other words, households of all income levels are going solar, from those in lower income neighborhoods to the wealthiest zip codes.
3. The share of solar installations within middle class neighborhoods – those in the $40,000 to $90,000 income range – continues to increase, meaning that solar installers are relying less on wealthier customers to drive growth and more on middle income customers. (Case in point, the most solar growth in New Jersey took place in areas where median income was between $30,000 and $40,000.)
One of the biggest reasons that rooftop solar panels have become much more than green status symbols for wealthy customers is net metering, a policy which allows solar panel -owning homeowners to see their electric meters spin backwards – and their utility bills shrink – as they generate their own electricity.
Even with the rapid growth in the number of residential solar installations, rooftop panels are still only providing one quarter of 1 percent of all electricity produced in the US. Nevertheless, the Center for American Progress analysis reports that many utilities see in their future the ominous-sounding “utility death spiral.” Their theory goes like this: Homeowners install solar panels, which reduces the amount of electricity they buy from the electric utility, thereby reducing the amount of fees that customers pay for grid maintenance, which then causes the utility to raise rates and, ultimately, encourages more and more customers to go solar which… causes rates to soar…. http://www.gracelinks.org/blog/3390/the-middle-class-is-driving-the-solar-revolution

A Tufts University study reported on inequity in the use of solar panels.

Science Daily reported in Racial inequality in the deployment of rooftop solar energy in the United States, study finds:

Although the popularity of rooftop solar panels has skyrocketed because of their benefits to consumers and the environment, the deployment has predominantly occurred in white neighborhoods, even after controlling for household income and home ownership, according to a study by researchers from Tufts University and the University of California, Berkeley, published today in the journal Nature Sustainability.
While solar energy is a popular, cost-effective, sustainable source of energy that can be deployed at large, utility-scale
Researchers 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’s American Community Survey. The Project Sunroof data includes information on more than 60 million rooftops, and almost 2 million solar installations.
“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 study found that for the same median household income:
• black-majority census tracts — or neighborhoods — have installed 69 percent less rooftop PV than census tracts (neighborhoods) where no single race or ethnicity makes up the majority (no-majority); and
• Hispanic-majority census tracts have installed 30 percent less rooftop PV than no-majority census tracts. Meanwhile, white-majority census tracts have installed 21 percent more rooftop PV than no-majority census tracts.
When correcting for home ownership, 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.
The study’s authors said more research is needed to help determine the root causes of the differences. They noted that the findings could be useful in developing better and more inclusive energy infrastructure policy and outcomes, including as part of the evolving ‘Green New Deal’ and programs at the state and federal level…. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/01/190110141709.htm

Citation:

Racial inequality in the deployment of rooftop solar energy in the United States, study finds
Date: January 10, 2019
Source: Tufts University
Summary:
Fewer rooftop solar photovoltaics installations exist in African-American and Hispanic-dominant neighborhoods than in white-dominant neighborhoods, even when controlling for household income and home ownership, according to a new study.
Journal Reference:
Deborah A. Sunter, Sergio Castellanos, Daniel M. Kammen. Disparities in rooftop photovoltaics deployment in the United States by race and ethnicity. Nature Sustainability, 2019; 2 (1): 71 DOI: 10.1038/s41893-018-0204-z

Here is the press release from Tufts University:

PUBLIC RELEASE: 10-JAN-2019
Study: Racial inequality in the deployment of rooftop solar energy in the US
Fewer rooftop solar photovoltaics installations exist in African-American and Hispanic-dominant neighborhoods than in white-dominant neighborhoods, even when controlling for household income and home ownership
MEDFORD/SOMERVILLE, Mass. and BERKELEY, Ca. (Jan. 10, 2019)–Although the popularity of rooftop solar panels has skyrocketed because of their benefits to consumers and the environment, the deployment has predominantly occurred in white neighborhoods, even after controlling for household income and home ownership, according to a study by researchers from Tufts University and the University of California, Berkeley, published today in the journal Nature Sustainability.
While solar energy is a popular, cost-effective, sustainable source of energy that can be deployed at large, utility-scale projects as well as on individual rooftops, deployment of rooftop solar has been uneven.
“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. “Solar energy can be a resource for climate protection and social empowerment.”
Researchers 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’s American Community Survey. The Project Sunroof data includes information on more than 60 million rooftops, and almost 2 million solar installations.
“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 study found that for the same median household income:
• black-majority census tracts – or neighborhoods – have installed 69 percent less rooftop PV than census tracts (neighborhoods) where no single race or ethnicity makes up the majority (no-majority); and
• Hispanic-majority census tracts have installed 30 percent less rooftop PV than no-majority census tracts. Meanwhile, white-majority census tracts have installed 21 percent more rooftop PV than no-majority census tracts.
When correcting for home ownership, 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.
The study’s authors said more research is needed to help determine the root causes of the differences. They noted that the findings could be useful in developing better and more inclusive energy infrastructure policy and outcomes, including as part of the evolving ‘Green New Deal’ and programs at the state and federal level.
“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 U. S. 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. Both Sunter and Kammen have been fellows of the Berkeley Institute for Data Science (BIDS), and Castellanos is a fellow at UC Berkeley´s Data for Social Sciences Lab (D-Lab).
###
Sunter, D., Castellanos, S., Kammen, D. (2019) “Disparities in rooftop photovoltaics deployment in the United States by race and ethnicity,” Nature Sustainability. DOI 10.1038/s41893-018-0204-z.
About Tufts University
Tufts University, located on campuses in Boston, Medford/Somerville and Grafton, Massachusetts, and in Talloires, France, is recognized among the premier research universities in the United States. Tufts enjoys a global reputation for academic excellence and for the preparation of students as leaders in a wide range of professions. A growing number of innovative teaching and research initiatives span all Tufts campuses, and collaboration among the faculty and students in the undergraduate, graduate and professional programs across the university’s schools is widely encouraged.

Even middle and upper income users of solar energy have to analyze the cost of solar. For lower income potential users of solar, the financial analysis is even more rigorous.

Bryan Phelps wrote in 5 Ways to Determine if Solar Energy is Right for You:

Governments, organizations, businesses, and homeowners are adopting solar energy at an exponential rate. Every year, new residential solar companies spring up to meet the demand of the expanding market. Regardless of the popularity and availability, solar energy is not a good fit for everyone, but it may be the right fit for you. Here are five important factors to consider when deciding if solar makes sense:
1. Location – Residential solar is available in every state, but in some states, switching to solar just makes more sense. Solar panels require direct sunlight, so if you live in an area with significant cloud cover, making the switch may not be a wise decision. Homes located in southwestern states, like California and Arizona, are great candidates for solar power. Even states you might not expect, like Massachusetts and New Jersey, are among the top contenders for solar energy consumption. There are many resources available online to help consumers review their state’s solar situation.
2. Energy habits – If your utility bills cost you hundreds of dollars each month, solar energy offers big potential savings. Solar is a great solution for homes that consume a lot of power because the savings outweigh the investment. Keep in mind that energy generation typically corresponds with need. During summer afternoons when the sun is brightest, energy needs rise (think fans and air conditioners), while solar energy generation increases.
3. Roof style – To maximize solar exposure, roof panels need to meet specific requirements. Many contractors will not install on a roof that will need replacing within 15 years. Additionally, steep pitches, flat roofs, and trees that cast a shadow on your house can all limit sun exposure and reduce the system’s efficacy. Conditions are best when the roof faces south and is made of composite shingles or concrete tile. Speaking with a professional installer or solar expert can help you determine if your roof meets the requirements.
4. Your “green” status – If you already try to make eco-friendly choices, deciding on solar may be a great next step. Solar consumers make a real difference by addressing one of the largest contributors to carbon emissions — residential homes. A 2013 study from UC Berkeley examined CO2 emissions reductions from residential solar. Researchers analyzed 113,533 homes with solar power and found that together, they avoided 696,544 metric tons of CO2 emissions. That is equivalent to the average annual output of 146,641 cars, or 1,619,870 barrels of oil.
5. Your wallet – Depending on how you decide to purchase and install your solar panels, there are several financial incentives to help alleviate any costs. State tax breaks and other government rebates provide incentive for many. Some solar companies even offer free installation with term agreements to make solar energy systems more affordable. In addition to these immediate savings, consumers who choose solar enjoy lower utility bills and increased home values. Over a 20-year period, the average solar customer is expected to save $20,080. A study over an 8-year period found that homes with solar energy not only sold at a higher price, but also had a better rate of sale than those without.
Solar technology and innovation are increasingly more available and affordable. For many homeowners, residential solar energy can be a practical and cost-effective approach to self-reliant and smart energy consumption…. http://www.yourenergyblog.com/5-ways-to-determine-if-solar-energy-is-right-for-you/

For many who are low-income, solar energy is often not economically viable.

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