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19 Black Leaders on the Forefront of Clean Energy

Black Americans are widely underrepresented in the growing fields of clean and renewable energy. The Solar Foundation, along with the Solar Energy Industries Association, published a diversity report earlier this year that found that executive leadership in solar companies is almost exclusively white men. The 2018 solar census found that 7.6% of 242,000 solar workers nationwide are African American. The industry association has called on solar companies to diversify, calling it a business imperative, yet only 22 percent of solar companies surveyed by the Solar Foundation said they had a strategy to increase the representation of people of color within their organization. 

This Juneteenth, TGP has curated a list to highlight and celebrate black business and governmental leaders who are paving the way for a diverse energy economy and sustainable future that our world needs.

1. Jessica O. Matthews, Founder and CEO of Uncharted Power


Uncharted Power is a power access company, paving the way for smart and sustainable infrastructure development. The Uncharted System specializes in creating a resilient, upgradable, and cost-effective “Internet for Decentralized Energy” by connecting energy sources and applications like sensors, edge devices, and ICT hardware right under our feet. Uncharted Power has raised $7 million, the largest Series A ever raised by a black female founder.

Jessica is not only founder and CEO but CTO, too, as well as a multiple patent holder for the software stack, hardware elements, mesh design, and AI-based protocols inside the MORE (Motion-based, Off-grid, Renewable Energy) technology.

Read Forbes: Uncharted Power Founder Jessica O. Matthews On Building The Anti-Silicon Valley Energy Startup

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Image Courtesy: Forbes Woman Africa

2. Matthew N. Portis, Founder & President of SolGreen


SolGreen is the first and only Black-owned and operated company that has invented, engineered and patented the first solar charging table or solar workstation, called the “Evodia Solar Workstation” with a vision to introduce a technology that would modernize and maintain sustainable infrastructure in cities, parks and outdoor public spaces. This invention meets the power and amenity needs of everyday people who are increasingly demanding of adequate seating, shelter and power to utilize cell phones, laptops, Wi-Fi, and lighting anytime and anywhere. 

Read: Black Engineer Develops Patented Solar Power Technology Being Used By HBCUs

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Image Courtesy: SolGreen

3. Ugwen I. Eneyo, Co-Founder & CEO of SHYFT Power Solutions


SHYFT Power Solutions is an award-winning, venture-backed energy technology company that is pioneering the use of IoT, software and big data to improve access to clean, reliable and affordable energy solutions in markets that struggle with grid resiliency. 

As a former Stanford MS/PhD student in Civil & Environmental Engineering, Ms. Eneyo’s studies explored how we use tech to create ‘grids of the future’ but particularly in emerging markets. She’s given talks on the nexus of energy and sustainable development to global thought leaders, including the World Bank.

Read Forbes: This Entrepreneur Shines A Light On The Power Of Female Deeptech CEOs

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Image Courtsey: ForbesWomen

4. Jason Carney, Founder and CEO of Energy Electives


A native of Nashville, Tennessee, Jason Carney became the first African-American in the entire state to obtain the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP) certification. Carney worked as the former Clean Energy Program Manager with the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy and moved forward to create Energy Electives, an energy company that provides the materials and services to help homeowners save money, improve comfort, and conserve energy. 

Over several years, Carney has given guest lectures about clean energy, accompanied students on field trips to nearby Music City Solar, the local utility’s community solar project, and started a solar project at Whites Creek High School, a majority-black, majority-low-income public school that is a seven-minute drive from his home in north Nashville.

Read NPR’s special on Jason Carney: A Mission To Bring Solar Energy To Communities Of Color

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Image Courtesy: NPR

5. Paula R. Glover, President and CEO of the American Association of Blacks in Energy (AABE)


American Association of Blacks in Energy (AABE) is a non-profit professional association whose focus is to ensure that African Americans and other minorities have input into the discussions and development of energy policy, regulations, and environmental issues. Mrs. Glover leads a 2000-member association with 40 chapters nationwide.

Prior to her current role, Ms. Glover served as the association’s Vice President of Operations and served as the organization’s Director of Communications. Ms. Glover’s experiences include 15 years in the energy industry for both electric and natural gas distribution companies. 

Read Forbes: AABE President & CEO Paula Glover Issues Bold Challenge To Industry To Tap Into Its Creative Side

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Image Courtsey:  American Association of Blacks in Energy (AABE)

6. Dr. Tony G. Reames, Director of the Urban Energy Justice Lab


The Urban Energy Justice (UEJ) Lab at the University of Michigan School for Environment and Sustainability (UM SEAS) was established in 2015 to study energy-related topics through a justice lens, primarily in an urban context. Their research focuses on the production and persistence of spatial, racial, and socioeconomic disparities in accessibility and affordability of energy services, technology, and programs. UEJ provides grants, invests in renewable energy projects, and has a service-learning program that gives college students from around the country the opportunity to spend their vacation week installing solar in underserved communities.

Dr. Tony Reames is an assistant professor for Climate + Energy at the UM SEAS. His research agenda seeks to connect the areas of technological advancement, the policy process, and social equity. His research extends the environmental justice scholarship to focus on energy justice. He is currently exploring disparities in residential energy generation, consumption, and affordability- focusing on the production and persistence of inequality by race, class, and place.

Read: Energy access is not created equal. This Ann Arbor organization is trying to change that.

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Image Courtesy: thegreenscholar.com

7. Denise Gray, CEO/President of LG Chem Power, Inc.


LG Chem is one of the world’s largest makers and suppliers of automotive batteries for electric vehicles. As of 2015, Denise Gray is the CEO of the U.S. arm in Detroit, MI and has integrated their battery systems into an impressive array of cutting-edge vehicles, including the Chevrolet Bolt and Chrysler Pacifica hybrid-electric vehicles.

Prior to her role as Chief of LG Chem, she had spent five years with a couple of specialty suppliers in the growing EV space and 29 years rising though General Motors on the powertrain-engineering side, eventually becoming the Director of energy-storage systems. 

Forbes: LG Chem Power Chief Focuses On Making EV Batteries Affordable

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Image Courtsey: Forbes

8. Gilbert Campbell, Co-Founder of Volt Energy


With a national presence in ten cities, Volt Energy is a minority-owned renewable energy firm that finances and develops solar projects through Solar Power Purchase Agreements (PPAs) for private and public sector clients. Utilizing innovative clean technology, Volt Energy provides design, engineering, and implementation of energy storage solutions. Volt Energy’s mission is to uplift communities through the opportunities and benefits provided by clean technology.

Gilbert received the White House Champions of Change Award for his leadership in advancing climate change equity and was named to EBONY magazine’s 2014 Power 100 List, which recognizes influential achievements by African-Americans annually. Gilbert is also a member of The American Association of Blacks in Energy (AABE), an Advisor to the US Department of Energy’s Minorities in Energy Initiative, and an Advisory Board Member of The Center for Energy Research and Technology at North Carolina A&T. Gilbert also serves on the Board of Directors for the Greater Washington Boys and Girls Club and is on the Ambassador Board for KIPP DC. 

Gilbert Campbell on solar power’s diversity problem

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Image Courtesy: Huffpost

9. Vicky A. Bailey, Chairman of The U.S. Energy Association, former President of PSI Energy, Inc.


Vicky A. Bailey has over thirty years of high level, national and international, corporate executive and governmental expertise in energy and regulated industries. Most recently, in the private sector, she has been involved as an entrepreneur and principal of BHMM Energy Services LLC, a certified minority owned energy facilities management organization, as well as the president of the Anderson Stratton International LLC management consultants in domestic and international energy industries. 

Ms. Bailey’s executive experience includes President and board member of PSI Energy, Inc., Indiana’s largest electric utility and subsidiary of the holding company Cinergy Corp., now Duke Indiana. Ms. Bailey’s governmental career included presidential appointments by President George W. Bush as the first Assistant Secretary for both Policy and International Affairs (2001-2004) of the U.S. Department of Energy and an earlier appointment by President Bill Clinton to the office of Commissioner (1993-2000) on the U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).

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Image Courtesy: United States Energy Association

10. Mark Davis, Founder of WDC Solar


WDC Solar, Inc. is a minority-owned solar installation company located in Washington, D.C. created to ensure that low-income communities have a stakeholder interest in the solar industry.

Mark Davis, a former Washington Bullets player-turned-solar entrepreneur, in conjunction with the District of Columbia Sustainable Energy Utility (“DCSEU”), created a low-income solar program designed to offer free solar systems to low-income residents who meet specified income guidelines. WDC Solar, Inc. creates livable wage renewable energy jobs for local electricians, roofers, solar technicians and engineers and to provide free or reduced-price solar energy to all residents living in the District of Columbia. They also install residential PV systems and larger commercial systems for schools, churches and government buildings.

Read CNN Business on “Bringing solar power and jobs to low-income neighborhoods”

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Image Courtesy: Mark Davis

11. Jacqueline Patterson, Director of the NAACP Environmental and Climate Justice Program


The NAACP ECJ Program was created to provide resources and support community leadership in addressing environmental injustice by advocating for reducing Harmful Emissions, Particularly Greenhouse Gases, Advancing Energy Efficiency and Clean Energy, and Strengthening Community Resilience and Livability.

Jaqueline Patterson has led the NAACP’s Power to the People campaign which cites the disproportionate exposure of African American children to coal plants and higher average costs that Black households pay for energy services as motivations to transition away from the fossil fuel industry. Since 2007 she has also served as coordinator & co-founder of Women of Color United. Jacqui Patterson has worked as a researcher, program manager, coordinator, advocate and activist working on women‘s rights, violence against women, HIV&AIDS, racial justice, economic justice, and environmental and climate justice. 

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Image Courtesy: Green 2.0

12. Dr. Robert L. Wallace, Founder of Bithenergy Inc.

Bithenergy offers intelligent strategies and full implementation services for development of renewable energy systems, managing energy consumption, and smart grid infrastructure build-out. A certified Minority Business Enterprise (MBE) and Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (DBE), Bithenergy solves complex energy challenges with innovation and bold vision. BITHGROUP also works with the Historically Underutilized Business Zones (HUBZone) program, which encourages economic development and employment growth in distressed areas.

Robert L. Wallace is an internationally-known entrepreneur, author, business consultant and keynote speaker. 

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Image Courtesy: Govcon Giants

13. Hazel O’Leary, former U.S. Secretary of Energy


The first African American Secretary of Energy, O’Leary advanced America’s energy policy toward valuing renewables and linking energy with health and environmental quality. She emphasized the importance of renewable energy and energy efficiency, increased funding for renewable energy fields, and established a quantifiable way to measure successes. She went on to lead the Ambassadors for the Minorities in Energy Initiative, part of the Department of Energy’s Office of Economic Impact and Diversity.

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Image Courtesy: Energy.gov

14. Van Jones, President & Co-Founder of Dream Corps: Green for All


Dream Corps: Green for All is a national NGO that uplifts the voices of low-income families and people of color in the climate movement through empathy-based communications and storytelling. They advocate for strong, resilient, and healthy neighborhoods through policy work that ensures that as the clean economy grows, it brings good jobs, better health, and opportunity to underserved communities. As part of the Clean Energy Corps Working Group, Green for All launched a campaign for a Clean Energy Corps initiative which would create 600,000 ‘green-collar’ jobs while retrofitting and upgrading more than 15 million American buildings.

Van Jones is a social entrepreneur, best-selling author, CNN political contributor and host of The Van Jones Show on CNN. He was appointed the green jobs advisor to President Barack Obama in 2009, where he helped run the inter-agency process that oversaw $80 billion in green energy recovery spending. 

Read Van Jones feature in Times Magazine “The 2009 TIME 100”

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Image Courtesy: The University of Tennessee

15. Lisa Jackson, V.P. of Environment, Policy and Social Initiatives at Apple, former EPA Administrator


Lisa Jackson was the first African American woman to serve as Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, serving under President Obama from 2009 to 2013. She worked to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, take action on climate change, and expand outreach to various communities on environmental education.

Now, as Vice President of Environment, Policy, and Social Initiatives at Apple, she works to decrease Apple’s environmental footprint by advancing renewable energy and energy efficiency and promoting more sustainable processes. Jackson has a Master’s Degree in Chemical Engineering from Princeton University and a Bachelor’s Degree in Chemical Engineering from Tulane University.

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Image Courtesy: Apple
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Image Courtesy: Apple Insider

16. Dr. Johney Green Jr., Associate Laboratory Director for Mechanical and Thermal Engineering Sciences at NREL


The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) is a national organization that advances the science and engineering of energy efficiency, sustainable transportation, and renewable power technologies and provides the knowledge to integrate and optimize energy systems.  

Dr. Green oversees transportation, buildings, wind, water, geothermal, advanced manufacturing, and concentrating solar power research programs, which encompass a portfolio of approximately $100 million and more than 300 employees. Prior to assuming his current position, Green held a number of leadership roles at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), where he served as director of the Energy and Transportation Science Division and group leader for fuels, engines, and emissions research.

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Image Courtesy: National Renewable Energy Laboratory

17. Sophie Maxwell, Board Supervisor for The San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC)


Sophie Maxwell is a former electrician who served three terms on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors representing southeast neighborhoods in San Francisco. During her tenure, she worked for more equitable distribution of public resources, increasing economic development opportunities for all San Franciscans, and nurturing and empowering our City’s most vulnerable residents. Sophie continues to advocate for environmental justice, clean energy, and children’s health and educational programs.

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Image Courtesy: The San Francisco Public Utilities Commission

18. Peter F. Green, Deputy Laboratory Director, Science and Technology at NREL


In his role as deputy laboratory director for Science and Technology, Green is responsible for NREL’s science and research goals, strengthening the laboratory’s core capabilities, and enhancing NREL’s research portfolio. In addition, he oversees the Laboratory Directed Research and Development Program, NREL-university interactions, and the postdoctoral research program.

Green’s prior leadership experience includes serving as president of the Materials Research Society, with members from more than 50 countries, in 2006. He has been a member of a number of advisory boards for the national academies, national laboratories, scientific journals, and universities. 

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Image Courtesy: National Renewable Energy Laboratory

19. Sabrina Campbell, Acting Budget Director in the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE)


As Acting Director, Sabrina Campbell oversees budget planning, development and execution in the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE). Prior to joining EERE, she served in the Under Secretary of Energy Office where she chaired budget development oversight and all fiscal-related matters of 12 program offices.  Additionally, she provided expertise on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), and other issues.

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Image Courtesy: Energy.gov

Learn more about The GREEN Program and our mission to educate and empower the next generation of sustainability leaders here.

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