Solar Power: African Americans may miss the boat, again!


By Marvin Wilcher

Nationwide ( — Over the last several years I have been involved in various aspects of the solar industry, from funding advanced solar technology research and developing solar systems for schools to funding leasing programs to make solar affordable for home owners, to finally starting a solar and green summer camp for kids. Additionally, I have attended many conferences and made quite a few presentations advocating the importance that eco-entrepreneurs will have on our new green economy.

I have attended these conferences with as little as 200 people and as many as 20,000. Along the way I have noticed an alarming trend, which is the lack of representation by the African American community, specifically that of the African American entrepreneur.

Van Jones, author of The Green Collar Economy and founder of Green For All, a national NGO dedicated to building an inclusive green economy strong enough to lift people out of poverty, had this to say, “Our success and survival as a species is largely and directly tied to the new eco-entrepreneurs – and the success and survival of their enterprises.” So I ask you, where is the African American entrepreneur?

I am sure that I am not the only one who notices that the African American community is not taking a leading role in growth of green technologies. Sacramento Mayor, Kevin Johnson, an African American himself, wants his city to be known as the emerald city, emerald referring to green technologies and green manufacturing. Mayor Johnson is hoping that Sacramento will be the place that eco-entrepreneurs call home when they begin investing and building the hundreds of projected green businesses of the future. The Mayor speaks at green seminars several times a month, sometimes to crowds of more than 200; however the African American community is still a minor percentage of those in attendance.

Several years ago African American representation could be blamed on the government for not properly educating the public on the vast business opportunities that are available through the green technologies industry, however with President Obama’s state of the Union Speech and recent recovery package, which dedicated billions of dollars towards training for renewable energy and energy efficiency, this cannot be the case.

Maybe the blame, or rather the responsibility, should be placed on the private sector. Through advertising and marketing they can help to spread the word and influence the public, not only on the importance of green technologies, but the opportunity the new green economy has for entrepreneurs. Or maybe it’s African Americans themselves for again failing to see the opportunities lying directly in front of them today just like they have failed to see those opportunities within arm’s reach in the past. Or finally maybe it’s our religious leaders! While the business of God has clearly been the most successful business in the African American community for the last 200 years, the benefactors of this 10,000,000 weekly customer base may have forgotten to pass out the latest news of “the green business revolution”.

Whatever the case may be, some industry experts, including myself, feel that if the current trend doesn’t change soon, the African American community will miss out on an enormous opportunity to change the way they live.

Thanks in part to Obama’s recovery package, today there are numerous training programs available throughout the country in different types of green energy, such as solar power. Non-profit groups like Solar Richmond (an organization that specializes in the education and training of solar energy installation to disadvantaged youths) have begun training people all over the country, usually at little to no cost for the course. Many private companies are also offering training programs in the solar industry, however these programs can run anywhere from $1,000 to as much as $3,500 per week for specialized courses in solar installation and instructional courses on how to start a solar business.

With all the available training and education, it is not clear why the African American community still remains underrepresented in the pursuit of this industry. The unfortunate part about lagging behind today is that it will make it that much harder to break into the industry tomorrow. It has been projected that in just 3 to 5 years there will more than 20 thousand solar and related businesses across the country, some big and some small, all of which will need competently trained employees. The time is now for African Americans to get ready for these incredible opportunities to come.

To understand just how fast this industry is growing, in 2009 solar technologies generated over $30 billion globally. This included everything from solar panel installations on buildings and homes to the manufacturing of solar panels and related products. In the first quarter of 2011 solar energy is the number one fastest growing industry in the country with a 63% year over year, quarter over quarter growth. At this current pace, it is estimated that by 2019 solar technology will account for over $100 billion of generated revenue per year. This increase means the creation of millions of direct and indirect jobs in the U.S. alone; jobs for everything from manufacturing solar technologies to the people required to market manage and sell the products. To get a glimpse at the future of solar technology, all you have to do is look at what’s going on today. Right now you can buy a 2011 Toyota Prius complete with a solar panel on the roof. Backpacks for middle school children and hikers are being sold with solar panels attached that are used to recharge such devices as cell phones and Ipods. You can even purchase compact solar panel technology that lights your driveway at night and helps to recharge your car’s battery. In a number of research centers across the nation there are scientists designing materials made of solar technologies that can be incorporated into clothing to provide warmth for your body.

My prediction is that in just 15 years time, nearly every new transport trailer will come complete with solar panel technology that will be used to not only save fuel but also to power the refrigeration trailers that transports of food from one place to another. Every major automaker will offer a solar roof on all of their models. Every new glass window installed in every building will have some type of solar finish on it generating free energy for the owners. Airplanes will begin to have solar panel technology incorporated into the skin of the fuselage that provides much of the power that propels airplanes on cross country flights. In the past a very limited number of African American entrepreneurs were able to capitalize of tech boom of the 70’s and 80’s, or the dot com boom of the 90’s. The question again becomes will African American’s miss the green energy boom of the 21st century, a boom that is bigger, more impactful, and scripted more for their profile then any of the previous booms. It is not a far stretch of the imagination to consider that in 15 years solar power might just begin to displace the petroleum and coal industries’ iron grip on our energy needs.

Many of these companies will become power houses, controlling technologies and power similar only to the oil companies of today. This is why it is so important for African Americans to get involved and start learning about solar and other green technologies. African Americans must avoid being left in the dark. They will need to begin educating themselves immediately on what solar energy and all that green technologies have to offer, or they may just find that they have “missed the boat” AGAIN!

Marvin Wilcher is president of Clean Energy Training Institute located in Sacramento California, a training program for people who want to get into the solar energy business. Mr. Wilcher also sponsors a clean energy camp for kids called Camp Green (, as well as his new blog site at He can be reached at or