Celebrating Black History Month: Black Leaders in Renewable Energy and Sustainability
According to The Solar Foundation's 2019 study on diversity, less than 8% of American solar energy jobs were held by African Americans. It's probably less shocking then to find that c-suite employees across the renewable energy industry are almost exclusively white, with only three black Fortune 500 CEOs as of 2018.
It's clear that the renewable energy industry still has much work to do when it comes to diversity and representation. Here are just a few black leaders who are paving the way for a diverse energy economy and driving the change towards a sustainable future.
Ugwem I. Eneyo
Ugwem I. Eneyo is the founder and CEO of SHYFT Power Solutions, "an energy technology company that develops IoT and software solutions to connect and manage distributed energy resources in markets that struggle with grid reliability."
Eneyo cites the enormously devastating environmental and socioeconomic impact of the oil and gas industry in Nigeria—where her family is from—as the reason why she is passionate about improving access to clean and affordable energy in regions with aging and unstable power grids.
Shyft builds technology "that will enable the transition to a decentralized, democratized and digitized energy landscape."
As Vice President of Environment, Policy, and Social Initiatives at Apple, Lisa Jackson oversees the company's efforts to minimize its impact on the environment by addressing climate change through renewable energy and energy efficiency, using greener materials and inventing new ways to conserve precious resources.
On the topic of environmental justice, she says "people are finally connecting the fact that you can’t talk about climate change and not talk about environmental justice…it’s inseparable from the largest set of issues in front of us."
Gilbert Campbell’s mission as CEO of Volt is to uplift communities through the opportunities and benefits provided by clean technology. One of Volt’s most notable projects was with Florida Avenue Baptist church—the first African American church to install solar energy, located right in the heart of Washington D.C.
Projects like this underscore his belief that under-served communities that have been hit the hardest by bad climate policy should be on the front line of benefiting from the job and wealth creation that renewable energy brings.
In 2012, Matthew Portis invented, engineered and patented the first "solar charging table" or "off-grid outdoor work-station" with a vision to introduce a technology that would modernize and maintain sustainable infrastructure in cities, parks and outdoor public spaces. Today, HBCUs across the country are using his invention.
On the SolGreen website, he writes: “We asked ourselves how we might move the needle on sustainable design to create products that are more practical to the evolving needs of communities around the world.”
As the first Black woman to launch a solar company, Kristal Hansley’s goal is to reduce monthly expenses for low-income Black households in Maryland.
She states: “From the moment the idea for WeSolar came to me, I was determined to make this a different kind of energy company—one that is dedicated to giving people control over their expenditures on electricity and offer them better value.”