By Emily Dao
We constantly hear the narrative that climate change impacts us all. And while that's true, the issue is disproportionately impacting people of color, especially Black, Latino, and Native Americans. And when it comes to environmental justice, we just aren't talking about social equity enough.
A decade ago, Grist reporter Alan Durning wrote on the topic of climate change and race, "It's 2010. Some things have changed; others have not. Racial discrimination has diminished but persists, often in hidden and even subconscious ways."
Even now, seemingly hidden barriers continue to burden marginalized communities with the effects of climate change.
So, even well-intentioned plans to adopt new eco-friendly practices could severely hurt vulnerable groups. The plea for environmental justice deals with ensuring basic human rights. This includes access to clean water, clean air, power, and shelter.
Flint Serves as One of the Most Popular Instances of Denied Environmental Justice.
Perhaps your first time being exposed to environmental racism was when you learned about Flint, Michigan. In fact, University of Michigan researcher Paul Mohai called it "the most egregious example of environmental injustice in recent U.S. history."
When residents complained about contaminated water supply, state officials quickly and publicly dismissed citizens' claims. Residents almost immediately noticed a change in their water supply back in April 2014. Flint is a city of nearly 100,000 people. But, the state waited over a year to address the issue, finally doing so in October 2015…a full eighteen months.
Let's look at some numbers. Black Americans made up only 14% of Michigan. However, the most heavily polluted zip code in Michigan is 84% Black. For Flint and their Republican-controlled state government, NYT report John Eligon said it meant the city had "little political power."
A state report by the Michigan Civil Rights Commission verified that racism was a contributing factor in the water crisis. Government inaction led to a major Legionnaire's outbreak from the poisoned water. This disease is a severe form of bacterial pneumonia. Michigan reported at least 90 citizens were sickened and 12 died. However, a PBS FRONTLINE investigation found that 115 people actually died in Flint.
In January, over 30,000 Flint residents have filed lawsuits against city and state regulators for reparations. But, NPR says it's "unclear" if anyone will ever face trial for this injustice.
"The people in Flint, in terms of justice, holding people accountable and compensation…we are batting zero," Flint resident Claire McClinton told NPR.
So, it's no surprise that people often refer to Flint when it comes to environmental racism.
Lacking Social Equity: Underserved Communities Experience More Exposure to Dangerous Air.
Overwhelmingly, Latino and Black Americans live closer to toxic waste facilities, coal plants, or other areas not compliant with federal air pollution regulations. These instances, in turn, are associated with significant respiratory problems among these marginalized groups.
An analysis in California from the Union of Concerned Scientists affirmed this idea. In the study, they found that U.S., Black, Latino, Asian, and low-income communities suffered the most from poor air quality — and impacted Black Americans the most.
They experience 43% more exposure to PM2.5 pollution than White Californians. (Fine particulates from PM2.5 pollution are smaller in width than human air and form from diesel exhaust, smokestacks, construction projects, etc. Exposure to PM2.5 pollution is actually the 6th leading cause of death in the world.) And you'd think that more would be done to fix this as a respiratory virus, COVID-19 ravaged the world. Instead, the EPA stopped enforcing air pollution rules during the virus. This, among other reasons, explains why people of color are at higher risk of contracting COVID-19.
Tragically, those hit hardest by pollution contribute the least. The same study found that California households without a personal vehicle were actually exposed to higher levels of air pollution. This is because these households are usually in urban areas, which are typically surrounded by heavy traffic.
Those living in low-income households already are at increased risk of a lower life expectancy. They're also more likely to contract chronic conditions like heart disease and diabetes. So, for poor communities, living near polluting facilities only makes them more vulnerable to dangerous health effects.
Low-Income Households, People of Color Are Left in the Dark.
The transition to renewable energy revealed a lack of equity for the poor and people of color. (Minority groups often overrepresent impoverished neighborhoods. A study by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services found that 40% of Americans living in poverty are black. Take in mind, Black Americans make up less than 20% of the U.S. population).
840 million people in the world still suffering from energy poverty. Overwhelmingly in the U.S., those struggling to pay for rising energy costs tend to be low-income Black and Latino Americans.
Given that many underserved communities don't even have reliable power, it makes sense that they're also less likely to have access to clean or energy-efficient technologies.
Time and Time Again, Research Reveals Inequity in Clean Energy.
University of Michigan Professor, Tony Reames found financial inequity in clean energy. His study revealed that upgrading to energy-efficient lightbulbs cost twice the amount in low-income neighborhoods compared to more affluent areas. And, for every dollar, Michigan spent on energy efficiency programs for low-income customers? The state spent $4.34 on high-income customers.
Additionally, in New Orleans, Grist reported that 20% of residents' income went to their energy bills. It's no wonder that the city, which has one of the nation's highest poverty rates, is also one of the least energy-efficient in the U.S.
And unfortunately, extreme rising temperatures due to climate change will only continue threatening power grids. This will result in heightened cases of blackouts. California's series of wildfires last year also hurt low-income households the most.
Last year, the California Department of Social Services reported that almost 51,000 households relying on food assistance lived in areas heavily impacted by planned outages to mitigate wildfires. For some, blackouts can definitely be an inconvenience. But, they can be devastating — and even deadly — to the poor and elderly.
Natural Disasters Disproportionately Impact Poorer Communities.
Natural disasters caused over $80 billion in damages in 2019. While disasters don't discriminate which areas they affect, recovery is much harder for the poor.
In times of despair, people tend to rally together. However, there's not an even dispersion of aid and attention. The Atlantic pointed out that private and public aid often "accrue to the haves more so than the have nots."
Brad Kieserman, VP of Disaster Logistics and Operations at the American Red Cross, discussed this after the Camp Fire wildfire.
"Disasters, for most communities, exacerbate already existing issues, which is why we often see in shelters what we sometimes refer to as the least, the last, and the lost'," he told the Atlantic. "The people who had the least, who were the last to get services, who were already at the end, who were lost beforehand, especially financially."
Environmental Justice a Big Challenge for the Native American Community.
According to The Conversation, 90 years of data show poverty rates climbing by 1% after natural disasters, impacting the poor most. For them, resiliency after devastations might not be possible.
"Our research suggests that the rich may have the resources to move away from areas facing natural disasters, leaving behind a population that is disproportionately poor," it wrote.
Then, when applying for recovery aid, Native Americans struggle most. Extreme heat and droughts harm plants and wildlife. They also create higher risks of wildfires and habitat loss. Since Native Americans depend heavily on natural resources, plants, and animals, it makes them vulnerable to climate change.
Yet, the National Congress of American Indians revealed that tribal citizens only received $3 on average for recovery efforts. Conversely, U.S. citizens received $26. Nelson Andrews Jr., Emergency Management Director for Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe discussed this with High Country News.
"It's basically like you're [Congress] setting us up to fail," he said.
The Importance of Your Vote in Achieving Environmental Justice.
After the Green New Deal was introduced back in 2019, AOC's sweeping proposal helped put climate policy on the map. One reason this outline got so much traction was that it heavily confronted social issues. This emphasis on social justice proved its important role in the climate narrative.
Although the Green New Deal did receive significant backlash over its feasibility, it did reinforce the idea that social justice and climate cannot exist as separate battles. In order for us to make significant progress in the fight against climate change, everyone must reap the benefits of a cleaner world.
The environment is the third most important issue in swing states. However, just focusing on the environment is not enough. When creating these solutions, poor, vulnerable communities must also be taken into consideration. We must demand environmental justice to enact real change.
Now more than ever is the time to use your voice, get loud, and stand up for what you believe is right. Now is the time to vote for our future.
This story originally appeared in The Rising, and is republished here as part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalism collaboration strengthening coverage of the climate story.
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Solar panels allow you to harness the sun's clean, renewable energy, potentially cutting your electric bills as well as your environmental footprint. But do solar panels work on cloudy days, or during seasons of less-than-optimal sun exposure? For homeowners who live outside of the Sun Belt, this is a critical question to consider before moving ahead with solar panel installation.
In this article, we'll go over how solar panels work on cloudy days, whether solar panels work at night, and how to ensure you always have accessible power — even when your panels aren't producing solar energy.
How Solar Panels Work on Cloudy Days
Photovoltaic (PV) solar panels can use both direct and indirect sunlight to generate electrical power. This means they can still be productive even when there is cloud coverage. With that said, solar panels are most efficient and productive when they are soaking up direct sunlight on sunny days.
While solar panels still work even when the light is reflected or partially obstructed by clouds, their energy production capacity will be diminished. On average, solar panels will generate 10 to 25% of their normal power output on days with heavy cloud coverage.
With clouds usually comes rain, and here's a fact that might surprise you: Rain actually helps solar panels work more effectively. That's because rain washes away any dirt or dust that has gathered on your panels so that they can more efficiently absorb sunlight.
Do Solar Panels Work at Night?
While solar panels can still function on cloudy days, they cannot work at night. The reason for this is simple: Solar panels work because of a scientific principle called the photovoltaic effect, wherein solar cells are activated by sunlight, generating electrical current. Without light, the photovoltaic effect cannot be triggered, and no electric power can be generated.
One way to tell if your panels are still producing energy is to look at public lights. As a general rule of thumb, if street lamps or other lights are turned off — whether on cloudy days or in the evening — your solar panels will be producing energy. If they're illuminated, it's likely too dark out for your solar panel system to work.
Storing Solar Energy to Use on Cloudy Days and at Night
During hours of peak sunlight, your solar panels may actually generate more power than you need. This surplus power can be used to provide extra electricity on cloudy days or at night.
But how do you store this energy for future use? There are a couple of options to consider:
You can store surplus energy in a solar battery.
When you add a solar battery to your residential solar installation, any excess electricity can be collected and used during hours of suboptimal sun exposure, including nighttime hours and during exceptionally cloudy weather.
Batteries may allow you to run your solar PV system all day long, though there are some drawbacks of battery storage to be aware of:
- It's one more thing you need to install.
- It adds to the total cost of your solar system.
- Batteries will take up a bit of space.
- You will likely need multiple batteries if you want electricity for more than a handful of hours. For example, Tesla solar installations require two Powerwall batteries if your system is over 13 kilowatts.
You can use a net metering program.
Net metering programs enable you to transmit any excess power your system produces into your municipal electric grid, receiving credits from your utility company. Those credits can be cashed in to offset any electrical costs you incur on overcast days or at night when you cannot power your home with solar energy alone.
Net metering can ultimately be a cost-effective option and can significantly lower your electricity bills, but there are a few drawbacks to consider, including:
- You may not always break even.
- In some cases, you may still owe some money to your utility provider.
- Net metering programs are not offered in all areas and by all utility companies.
Is Residential Solar Right for You?
Now that you know solar panels can work even when the sun isn't directly shining and that there are ways to store your energy for times your panels aren't producing electricity, you may be more interested in installing your own system.
You can get started with a free, no-obligation quote from a top solar company in your area by filling out the 30-second form below.
FAQ: Do Solar Panels Work on Cloudy Days?
How efficient are solar panels on cloudy days?
It depends on the panels, but as a rule of thumb, you can expect your solar panels to work at 10 to 25% efficiency on cloudy days.
How do solar panels work when there is no sun?
If there is literally no sunlight (e.g., at night), then solar panels do not work. This is because the photovoltaic effect, which is the process through which panels convert sunlight into energy, requires there to be some light available to convert.
However, you can potentially use surplus solar power that you've stored in a battery. Also note that solar panels can work with indirect light, meaning they can function even when the sun is obscured by cloud coverage.
Do solar panels work on snowy days?
If there is cloud coverage and diminished sunlight, then solar panels will not work at their maximum efficiency level on snowy days. With that said, the snow itself is usually not a problem, particularly because a dusting of snow is easily whisked away by the wind.
Snow will only impede your solar panels if the snowfall is so extreme that the panels become completely buried, or if the weight of the snow compromises the integrity of your solar panel structures.
Will my solar panels generate electricity during cloudy, rainy or snowy days?
Cloudy days may limit your solar panel's efficiency, but you'll still be able to generate some electricity. Rainy days can actually help clean your panels, making them even more effective. And snowy days are only a problem if the snow is so extreme that the panels are totally submerged, without any part of them exposed to the sun.