In this episode, a former oil-and-gas man named Efrem Jernigan catches the solar bug. Inspired by the potential for lower energy bills and green jobs, he looks into bringing solar to the neighborhood he grew up in, a historically black part of Houston called Sunnyside. 

 

But for many Sunnyside residents, the technology is out of reach: Many are renters. Others lack roofs with sufficient sun. And still others simply don’t have the money to purchase expensive solar systems. 

 

And it’s not just Sunnyside. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory estimates that less than half  of American homes and businesses can install rooftop solar. So what are the solutions?  

 

One answer, at least in Sunnyside, involves a controversial landfill that gets new life as a solar farm—specifically as something called a community solar project.

 

Matthew Popkin, a researcher at the energy thinktank RMI, talks about how community solar projects get around the barriers of rooftop panels. Also in this episode: how do we turn former industrial sites—also known as brownfields—into renewable projects?

The Big Switch is produced by Columbia University's Center on Global Energy Policy in partnership with Post Script Media. This episode was produced by Daniel Woldorff and Alexandria Herr Theme music and mixing by Sean Marquand. Story editing by Anne Bailey. A special thanks to Jen Wu, Natalie Volk and Kyu Lee. Our managing producer is Cecily Meza-Martinez. Our executive editor is Stephen Lacey.