Kristal Hansley started her green energy business, which was made available by car dealers, after she had just finished working on Capitol Hill in the summer of 2017, and then began working in a Chevy agency outside Baltimore, in the United States.
Hansley was the only black woman in the showroom, and her co-workers, most of them white men, were more interested in selling Corvettes and Silverados than in the electric cars on display. That’s why Hansley created its niche to focus on electric vehicles, achieving dozens of sales of models every month.
“It was a defining moment when I understood that customers could benefit from green discounts and other incentives offered to stimulate electric vehicles, and they are often wealthy people,” Hansley says.
Last year, the 32-year-old founded WeSolar, a company focused on community solar energy that, despite being a startup, is a fast growing industry in the industry. The company focuses on “virtual solar energy” as it is sometimes called, to provide private rooftop installations and manage solar projects.
These projects provide energy to families and companies from small solar farms, instead of relying on panels on the roofs, and customers buy stakes in them and get credit from their monthly utility bills based on their usage.
An ethnic divide in clean energy
Hansley is considered the first black woman in the United States to run a community solar energy project, but she aims to be more than just a champion in the field of clean energy, in addition to all the advantages of green energy, it is in fact an area where racism is entrenched. The solar field has a starkly white trend, from the availability of fixtures to high-income households who primarily reap the benefits of private rooftop panels.
All the while, disadvantaged neighborhoods of people with diverse ethnic backgrounds suffer disproportionately from fossil fuel pollution and climate change risks. Hansley believes that her mission is to achieve some parity between the affluent neighborhoods and these slums in terms of access to clean energy through community solar energy and a subscription system.
Hansley, who founded her startup on June 19, the day the end of slavery in the United States, says there is a gap in the exploitation of clean energy. As protests over racial justice were taking place across the country last year, she asked, “Why not build a bridge to connect with these communities that have been left to die?”
Community solar projects are a small part of the solar industry, but they could play a big role in the race towards a low-carbon economy. Traditionally, rooftop solar is sold to a specific group of people, including homeowners who are highly creditable and can afford the initial investment.
For low- and middle-income residents, the discounts offered vary by company, utility and country. In Maryland, for example, such customers can get a 50% higher discount than other residents, says the trade group and Hansley says that “it’s a crime for people not to know about it.”
Expansion of community energy projects
136 kilometers north of New York City, on the outskirts of Poughkeepsie in the Hudson Valley, dozens of rows of blue solar panels cover a 17-acre field. It is surrounded by dense woods and the Catskill Mountains insight. It has about 8,800 panels, all of which tend to capture sunlight and convert it into electricity. This solar farm, which is considered one of the largest in New York and is run by “ClearWay Energy”, produces 2 megawatts of electricity, which is enough for about 500 homes, half of which goes to low and middle-income people.
Community solar farms typically cover 10-25 acres of land, each generating between 2 and 5 megawatts of energy, which is enough for 350-900 homes, according to the Community Solar Energy Alliance.