Since the murders of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd on account of police brutality and systemic racism in the United States, companies in the clean energy industry have been taking an inward look at their policies and practices and subsequent role in perpetuating racism and racial disparities. Although clean energy companies can be considered more virtuous than fossil fuel companies, as they help clean up the grid, which will naturally reduce pollution for the communities of color who experience pollution more acutely, and are not carbon-emitting and therefore do not contribute to climate change as severely — which disproportionately impacts people of color across the world, these companies still fall short in other areas, such as the number of opportunities for Black employees in the industry and the availability of rooftop solar to majority-nonwhite neighborhoods.
Since the clean energy industry is operating within an energy system which is connected to other systems that are racist at their core, it "has to be very careful that as we grow and mature, we’re not replicating the injustices that have proliferated to date throughout the energy system.” Since the clean energy industry is still young, there's still hope for the industry to remedy present disparities and injustices, including discouraging unions, employing prison labor to manufacture equipment, and the fact that the majority of solar is installed in white neighborhoods.
The industry interventions that are needed in order to confront systemic racism include diversifying the clean energy workforce (and not just entry level jobs in the industry), breaking away from the monopoly utility business model, which has led to fewer than 20 states allowing community solar, and aggresively and proactively advocating for clean energy on a local, state, and federal level.
Certain clean energy structures, such as community solar and community-owned microgrids, are inherently indicative of the promise of a more equitable industry. For now, though, many of those projects rely on supportive state-level policy, mission-driven organizations or one-off charitable contributions.The kind of policies that make those projects sustainable — such as local Solar for All initiatives and community solar that incentivizes low-income participation — need to be expanded, which will require lobbying effort.
Emma Foehringer Merchant, "What is the Clean Energy Industry Doing to Confront Racism?", contributed by Morgan Sarao, The Energy Rights Project, Platform for Experimental Collaborative Ethnography, last modified 30 October 2020, accessed 2 March 2024. https://energyrights.info/content/what-clean-energy-industry-doing-confront-racism