We’ll admit it — the solar energy industry is an imperfect one. Though it has enjoyed considerable expansion as we transition into the era of clean energy, challenges and growing pains will persist as solar matures. For an industry that champions equity, independence and social and environmental responsibility, solar still has room to improve — especially in the areas of inclusion and the effort to elevate minorities in a field made up mostly of white men.
According to Abigail Ross Hopper, president and CEO of the Solar Energy Industries Association, “the $30 billion solar and storage industry is filled with tremendous opportunities, but our future success depends on our ability to expand our reach and welcome more diverse businesses to the industry.” The SEIA backed this statement with a 2019 study, showing that only 7.6% of the solar workforce is Black or African American.
As we enter Black History Month — a time dedicated to honoring the triumphs, struggles and contributions of Black people throughout U.S. history — we’re reflecting on ways that we can enrich our industry by elevating and empowering Black-owned businesses in our communities.
Supporting Black-owned businesses in solar is not only a means of combating racial injustice, but environmental injustices as well. As we all know, environmental injustice has a greater impact on low-income communities and communities of color. Let’s take a look at some of the leading Black-owned solar companies you can support.
Black-Owned Solar and Energy Businesses to Support
Here are some of the top Black-owned businesses in the solar industry today:
Aurora Solar is one of the biggest names in solar that most of our readers have never heard of. Why’s that? Aurora Solar specializes in solar engineering software that is a staple of nearly every solar company these days. If you’ve gotten a proposal from a solar company, chances are it was drawn up using Aurora. The design software is used and trusted by some of the best solar companies out there including, the likes of SunPower, Momentum Solar, Sunpro, Blue Raven Solar and more.
Co-founded by Samuel Adeyemo, we anticipate that Aurora will be a fixture in the design of solar systems for decades to come.
WeSolar’s mission is to bring under-resourced communities affordable access to local community solar and to assist commercial properties with energy efficiency. We chose to highlight WeSolar for its understanding of the importance of community solar in a more equitable energy future.
Community solar programs, also known as “shared solar,” help to address both physical and financial barriers to the benefits of going solar. For example, many low-income homeowners will not be able to afford the upfront cost of a residential solar panel system, and due to credit barriers or other challenges may not even be eligible to get a loan to finance a system. Others may not have homes large enough to warrant installing rooftop solar.
In most cases, community solar involves multiple customers, individuals, businesses or nonprofits sharing the investment in an off-site solar array through a subscription model. The energy generated by this off-site array is shared by the community subscribers.
Community solar helps more families gain access to affordable clean energy, increasing community resilience and lowering the strain placed on outdated infrastructure struggling to provide for a growing population. WeSolar, founded by Kristal Hansley, is helping lead the charge toward community solar in Baltimore and elsewhere.
Not quite a solar provider like some other names on this list, Uncharted Power is a power access company, meaning it specializes in smart and sustainable infrastructure development. Essentially, Uncharted Power connects already existing power sources with applications like sensors and information communication technology (ITC) throughout cities.
Uncharted’s founder and CEO, Jessica Matthews, explains that challenges to affordable energy access don’t result from how much energy exists within cities, but instead how that energy is wired and distributed. Matthews believes that energy industries currently focus too much on products and not enough on improving existing infrastructure to be more efficient, sensible and well-planned.
Uncharted Power’s business model is designed for cities and municipalities looking to modernize their electrical grids. In smaller cities, Uncharted Power takes the lead on decentralizing the energy grid, lessening the burden required by public infrastructure to distribute power throughout the nation.
Founded in 2009 by Doug Parish, Red Dipper Inc. specializes in electrical contracting focusing on smart city assets. Similar to Uncharted Power, Red Dipper understands that issues of energy equity are not solved simply by making and selling more solar panels. Rather, Red Dipper incorporates solar into its holistic approach to provide clean energy supplies and solutions to its clients.
A few project highlights include providing power to the Golden State Warrior’s Chase Arena, the 19th Street BART Station in Oakland, and the San Francisco Unified School District. If you’re reading this from the Bay Area, chances are Red Dipper can help you clean up your energy sources while streamlining your efficiency.
Earth Wind and Solar Energy
Illinois-based Earth Wind and Solar Energy (EWSE) carries the mission of advocating for sustainability in all peoples’ lives and making renewable energy affordable for everyone. In a world where low-income groups are priced out of the biggest benefits of solar energy (which come with system ownership), EWSE understands that reducing environmental degradation and energy inequity begins with education and outreach within its community.
Co-founded by Riana Caravette, an African-American woman, choosing EWSE means supporting an installer that prioritizes community health over making sales. With over 14 years of experience, EWSE provides experience, knowledge and expertise in solar and renewable energy throughout Northern Illinois.
And Many, Many More
Though we’ve chosen to highlight five of our favorite black-owned businesses in solar and the energy space, there is a growing number of impressive companies to support. We encourage you to explore SEIA’s Diverse Suppliers Database to find more.
Why Supporting Black-Owned Businesses in Solar Matters
Despite the encouraging growth of solar energy, Black families and business owners still face disproportionate numbers of challenges in cleaning up the energy sources in their communities. Here are a few of the biggest hurdles many minority communities face:
- Lack of access to the necessary capital: Solar energy systems require a large upfront investment to maximize long-term value. For most lower-income households, purchasing a solar energy system upfront is out of the question.
- Poor existing infrastructure: The existing infrastructure in low-income communities is far more fragile, costly and impactful. For example, in southern Louisiana, lower-income areas are far more vulnerable to the impacts of oil spills, prolonged power outages (priority restorations go to higher-income areas) and extreme weather, which drives up energy costs due to constant restoration efforts.
- Climate change will have a disproportionate impact on low-income communities: The worst effects of climate change will be felt by low-income communities, primarily those of color. Some impacts we’re already seeing include areas being more vulnerable to flooding or fires, extreme heat or poor air and water quality.
By choosing a Black-owned solar company, you’re helping to support the demographic that needs the benefits of clean energy most. Lower costs of electricity, access to clean energy and energy independence should not be limited by income bracket, credit score or race. With both public and private support, proactive policy, and improved education, the solar industry can provide a more equitable energy future for all.