The general energy sector has notoriously lacked diversity, so it’s not surprising that the renewable energy sector has followed suit. For example, while 12% of the U.S. labor force is black, that number drops to 8% in solar—with only a small fraction of those in executive positions. Also, while women make up 47% of the U.S. workforce, that percentage is significantly lower in energy such as 21% in wind.
Increasing diversity in renewables not only expands opportunities to participate in clean energy jobs but helps strengthen the sector as a whole. Having people with an array of life experiences, opinions, perspectives, and skillsets brings new ideas and approaches to problem solving, which the growing industry needs to be successful. A diverse workforce boosts productivity, drives innovation, and ensures that all communities will see social, economic, and environmental benefits.
This is a key focus for the Biden administration, which emphasizes diversity in plans to improve infrastructure and combat climate change. This includes providing research grants and opportunities to historically black colleges and minority-serving institutions. The Department of Energy is also offering $15.5 million in new funding to deploy solar energy in underserved communities and to build a diverse, skilled workforce to help reach the administration’s goal of 100% clean energy by 2035. Another $17.3 million will go toward college internships, research opportunities, and projects that connect STEM students and faculty with the DOE’s National Laboratories. Awardees include historically black colleges and universities and other minority serving institutions.
Renewable sectors and businesses are also making their own efforts to increase diversity. For example, the Global Wind Energy Council runs a Women in Wind program to push for greater gender equality and many companies are setting their goals to create more inclusive work cultures.
Such efforts are making an impact. For one, SEIA reports that the solar industry is growing more diverse. Since 2015, solar industry employment has increased by 39% for women, 92% for Hispanic or Latino workers, 18% for Asian workers, 73% for Black or African American workers, and 19% for veterans. Conversations around diversity are also becoming more frequent and pronounced. Addressing climate change and shifting to a clean energy transition will require hands of all ages, races, ethnicities, genders, sexual orientations, and life experiences.