Closing the green gap? Changing disparities in residential solar installation and the importance of regional heterogeneity

Energy Research and Social Science

(with Fedor A. Dokshin and Brian Thiede)

The push to accelerate the transition to renewable energy sources raises questions about how associated costs and benefits are distributed. The likelihood that individuals and communities benefit from access to solar photovoltaics (PV) may vary systematically, between social groups and across space. The present study leverages high-resolution and uniquely comprehensive data on nearly all residential solar PV installations in New York State to measure disparities (and their trends over time) in PV deployment across three axes: ethno-racial composition, income, and rural-urban status. We identify notable differences in solar PV adoption rates across all three dimensions and show that deployment gaps changed dramatically between 2010 and 2020. White-majority census tracts maintained a substantial advantage in PV adoption early on, but minority-majority tracts narrowed and eventually overtook White-majority tracts in terms of variable-adjusted PV deployment rates in New York. However, PV deployment gaps across income and rural-urban status have largely persisted. Finally, an analysis comparing deployment trends across three regions of New York State reveals that trends in a single region, consisting largely of New York City, account for major shifts in overall disparities. The important implication is that policies and market processes unfolding at the local level critically shape distributional outcomes in PV deployment.

Categorized as Research