Disparities in rooftop photovoltaics deployment in the United States by race and ethnicity

Deborah A. Sunter, Sergio Castellanos and Daniel M. Kammen

Nature Sustainability
January 10, 2019

The rooftop solar industry in the United States has experienced dramatic growth—roughly 50% per year since 2012, along with steadily falling prices. Although the opportunities this affords for clean, reliable power are transformative, the benefits might not accrue to all individuals and communities. Combining the location of existing and potential sites for rooftop photovoltaics (PV) from Google’s Project Sunroof and demographic information from the American Community Survey, the relative adoption of rooftop PV is compared across census tracts grouped by racial and ethnic majority. Black- and Hispanic-majority census tracts show on average significantly less rooftop PV installed. This disparity is often attributed to racial and ethnic differences in household income and home ownership. In this study, significant racial disparity remains even after we account for these differences. For the same median household income, black- and Hispanic-majority census tracts have installed less rooftop PV compared with no majority tracts by 69 and 30%, respectively, while white-majority census tracts have installed 21% more. When correcting for home ownership, black- and Hispanic-majority census tracts have installed less rooftop PV compared with no majority tracts by 61 and 45%, respectively, while white-majority census tracts have installed 37% more. The social dispersion effect is also considered. This Analysis reveals the racial and ethnic injustice in rooftop solar participation.



Featured Fellows

Deborah Sunter

Energy & Resources Group
DATA SCIENCE FELLOW

Dan Kammen

Energy and Resources Group, Goldman School of Public Policy