We tend to think of the solar industry as progressive and forward thinking – and generally, perhaps, it is. But in doing some research on some solar projects, which I’ll feature in this post, I first wanted to discuss some disturbing statistics.
The Solar Foundation’s 2019 Diversity Study found that women make up 26 percent of the solar industry. Hispanic and LatinX staff comprise 17 percent of the workforce, Asians 9 percent, and Black people only 8 percent. The study also found that more than 80 percent of executives in the industry are white, and men.
Have a look at the infographics from this study – the graphics tell the story – see below:
In New York City, an organization called WE ACT has written about a community group called Solar Uptown Now Services (SUNS). The mission and vision of WE ACT is presented on their page in the following way:
WE ACT’s mission is to build healthy communities by ensuring that people of color and/or low income residents participate meaningfully in the creation of sound and fair environmental health and protection policies and practices.
WE ACT envisions a community that has:
informed and engaged residents who participate fully in decision-making on key issues that impact their health and community.
strong and equal environmental protections.
increased environmental health through community-based participatory research and evidence-based campaigns.
WE ACT’s website has a story about SUNS that is very project-oriented. Here’s what they have to say:
In 2019, a core group of 10 established Solar Uptown Now Services (SUNS), with the intent of serving as an example of diverse and equitable ownership in the growing green economy while building a foundation for the employment of other certified solar installers – regardless of their race or gender – who follow them through WE ACT’s training program.
As I try to convey in my project management classes, establishing a clear mission and vision is critical at the organizational level – they’ve done that. Project success, although of course not guaranteed, is enhanced when there is a sort of golden thread from the enterprise or organizational level to the programs and projects that the organization charters. A further connection to project management is evident in the work that they are doing:
As part of the formation process, each member gave themselves a strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats (SWOT) analysis to identify their entrepreneurial advantages and limitations. SUN member Percy Prempeh-Mann found the self-reflection helpful, and noted “Wherever one person struggled, others were always willing to step in and help.” In this way, the cooperative was not only beneficial to individual development, but also fostered teamwork.
That teamwork has gone a long way in the co-op’s initial projects – which have employed more than 17 community members.
The 4 MW solar farm SUNS installed in Croton, New York.
As of early 2021, SUNS members completed two solar installation projects in upstate New York: the first was a 250 KW installation on a barn in Arcadia, and the second was a ground mount 4 MW system made up of 10,000 solar panels on a 9-acre field in partnership with Croton Energy Group, Inc.
Currently, SUNS is scheduled to complete an 80 KW project in Northern Manhattan by the end of Spring 2021. You can follow the progress of this and other projects on the SUNS Instagram page.
As to the diversity problem in the solar industry – more on that later. As a reference you can see this Diversity Best Practices Guide produced by the Solar Energy Industries Association and The Solar Foundation. As to the projects, and the ground-level efforts I’ve discussed here, it’s encouraging, at least to me, to see the project work that groups like WE ACT and SUNS are doing – and making a difference.