Powered by gentrification: the uneven development of residential rooftop solar in Atlanta, Georgia


Rooftop solar is widely seen to be a crucial piece of the puzzle for addressing both greenhouse gas emissions and reducing household energy burdens. However, studies from across the United States have consistently pointed to inequalities in the adoption of rooftop solar that limit its ability to address these overlapping problems. This paper examines these social and spatial inequalities in rooftop solar adoption in Atlanta, Georgia, using a novel dataset of residential rooftop solar installation permits from 2018 through 2022. Through this analysis, we demonstrate that while more affluent and white neighborhoods are home to the majority of residential rooftop solar installations within the city, the most significant growth in rooftop solar in recent years has been in majority poor and majority Black neighborhoods. But by combining these records with an analysis of property-level characteristics and transaction histories, we are able to show how the installation of rooftop solar, especially in those same neighborhoods, is not, in fact, being driven by a narrowing of racial inequalities in rooftop solar adoption or a greater concern for energy justice. Instead, as gentrification unfolds in previously marginalized neighborhoods, these newcomers become the vanguard of rooftop solar adoption rather than the longstanding residents who would have the most to gain from such technologies. This paper ultimately clarifies the distinction between the spatial redistribution and social redistribution of renewable energy, and the need for both finer-grained analyses of inequalities in clean energy access and adoption and a greater commitment towards both energy and housing justice.

Energy Research & Social Science 108: 1-13