The Only Black Man in Tennessee Solar

At Tennessee State University, Nashville native, Jason Carney, a Mechanical Engineer major, did his Capstone project about Renewable Energy. The capstone helped him understand Professional care, LEED Standards, and reintroduced him back to Solar the more he researched. At the time, Obama was president and was pushing for more renewables and Sunshine initiatives.Van Jones was talking about this work in 2008 through his book, The Green Collar Economy. President Jimmy Carter tried to push Solar in the 1970’s and President Reagan killed it and brought back oil. Even when Phil Bredesen was governor, he tried to make Tennessee a solar state. Now Former Governor Bredesen owns a Solar Company. People like Jason are trumpeting this effort even in the hostile environment of the south. On the West Coast, Hawaii, Germany, China, and Maui are already on board with renewables, but the Southern Region has to catch up to the rest of the globe.

In a homogenous industry such as Renewable Energy, there is not a lot of diversity. Not many black people are in the field and companies do not recruit at Historically Black Colleges and Universities, mainly because companies do not think African-Americans are smart enough to understand the work. Because of this, many African-Americans do not know about the industry. For Jason in a very predominantly white industry, he’s even been mistaken as working in the plant as a worker and not the field as an expert. Scientists say enough solar in one hour from the sun can supply the planet for a year. That doesn’t count wind or hydropower. This is a very good time for black and brown communities to think about the industry. Renewable energy is cheaper than ever, creates jobs, makes lower electricity bills, Environmentally friendly, and creates Energy Independence.

Jason has a passion for making sure black people are not excluded in Solar. He combined his passion with his intellectual and professional pursuits. He describes the work as very technical, with boardrooms full of white people, and he not finding anyone else who looks like him. Many people in this field make $200K while blacks are struggling. For Jason, he is consistently wondering, what can he do to bridge the wealth gap in this country? The average income of black people is half of what white people earn for the last 6 decades. There are generational disparities amongst black folk, mass incarceration, and yet black people make up 13% of the population while being 80 percent of the juvenile system. Every resource humans use takes tons of money to invest in. Millions of dollars for land and for tools to build the land. This come with Buyers and Investors. Many African Americans do not have the type of large capital nor do most want to put in the risk. Jason preaches that renewable energy is readily available and no one controls it. Solar Panels are simple in design, Installing them are simple, and for Jason, this is the mode to bridge the gap. It brings the opportunity of jobs to people without millions of dollars to invest. Sunshine Initiative did what it was intended to do. It pushed solar power down to $1 a KW. it’s below that now. Renewable Energy being cheap is pushing the wave and it’s not going backwards.

It can be disparaging for someone like Jason to remain in this industry, yet his Faith keeps him going. He hopes that Christianity is what will be his legacy. Jason is a civil rights movement buff and Nashville’s history in civil rights is real. Knowing this, Jason knows It takes intentional fortitude to do this work. While reading, Congressman John Lewis’ Walking in the WInd, he recalls the book connecting the everyday dots for him. Lewis didn’t think he was smart to do the things he was doing, but he did it anyways. Jason says, “We can look in the past 50 years, or realize that the everyday Joes and Janes are the ones that do the work. They are the ones to push us into the next generation. It might feel like a glutton for punishment, but if you do it, remember there is no progress without struggle. Unless you come up against adversity, you have to ask yourself if you are doing anything significant.”

Yet even with all these benefits, Policy and Education are the hardest part of the work. There are funding resources, but people don’t want to lose their power (pun intended), and laws are created to stop this from happening. Jason also teaches at Whites Creek where students ask what does solar do. He believes we have to educate for a tidal wave of influence to affect policy. “More people of color need to push the benefits to manipulate the finances even if they don’t have the capital there are grants, community solar projects to get it done. Residential solar pushes 100 percent through my house. This push on health disparities because form what type of energy we have can cause asthma and other health issues when it comes from coal.”

The question was asked to Jason, why should black people care about solar and renewable energy? He said, “All people should use renewable energy. If only blacks do it, there won’t be an overall effect, but it specifically effects black people.”

African Americans need something to level the playing field. Solar is the most fair and just resource humanity has because no one can control it. It offers jobs and entrepreneurship to close the wealth gap and that can close the health gap. If black people can work towards bettering themselves in the economic world, they can better ourselves in other fields. Even though Jason is not a wealthy man, he wants to hold the door open and lead many people through as much as he can.

To learn more about Jason Carney and his work, go to and @energyelect on twitter

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