The Link Between Renewable Energy and Accessibility

by Sierra Winters

We are at a turning point in the climate crisis. This year’s COP 26 has seen world leaders take a more progressive stance on climate action than in previous meetings, and significant investment into renewable energy has been made at the local, state, and national levels. The Department of Energy has committed to providing net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, and businesses that make sustainability part of their core mission can gain significant funding through governmental initiatives. 

Concurrently, public awareness about accessibility is growing, and disability advocacy is finding traction with governmental funding and businesses which provide technology-driven solutions for those living with disabilities. 

For many, the uptake of renewable energy sources and increased accessibility advocacy is seen as unrelated. However, renewable energy will reduce the cost of energy, improve job prospects for those living with disabilities, and will provide more reliable energy sources during dangerous outages. Renewable energy investment increases everybody’s access to clean, sustainable energy and improves the quality of life for citizens around the globe. 

Financial Accessibility

A recent report in The Guardian found that sustainable energy sources like wind and solar are now cheaper than finite sources like coal. In fact, the report highlighted that two-thirds of the renewable energy sources built last year will be able to provide cheaper energy than their unrenewable counterparts. By budgeting wisely for upgrades like solar panels and energy-efficient appliances, at-risk populations can lower their bills and gain greater access to energy when they need it. 

This shift in affordability is important, as those living with disabilities are overrepresented in low-socioeconomic status households. Additionally, one of the metrics used to assess socioeconomic status (SES) is energy usage. Those living in homes with low-SES typically use less energy. In part, this is because low-SES households are usually smaller homes that require less energy but also due to financial insecurity that keeps the lighting and heating off when they aren’t completely necessary. For folks living with disabilities, using less energy is often unviable, as households need to be well lit and properly heated to keep disabled residents safe. 

Creating financially accessible energy sources is also valuable for elderly populations, who sometimes keep their heating off to reduce energy bills. This is extremely dangerous and can lead to hypothermia and other negative health conditions. By providing the nation with a more sustainable, financially viable energy grid, we can ensure no households feel the pressure to keep the heating below safe levels.  

Accessibility in an Emergency

Houses and homes can pose unique challenges and dangers to those living with a disability. There are plenty of safety tips that homeowners can follow to provide a secure space. At the same time, if an emergency occurs and nonrenewable energy sources fail, then those living with disabilities are put at significant risk. 

Recent energy crises in Texas and California exhibit the need for renewable energy. The energy outages which struck both states were exacerbated by climate change and were largely linked to inefficient energy storage. Another report from The Guardian found that power outages endangered elderly, poor, and disabled residents. Prolonged outages meant that residents could not adequately heat and light their homes, which provided significant obstacles for disabled residents. In response, advocacy groups have campaigned for sustainable energy sources which are produced and stored in local neighborhoods, rather than nonrenewable—increasingly scarce—energy sources that are stored in centralized power grids. 

Sustainable Development and Accessibility

The UN’s most recent report on sustainable development specifically targeted accessibility and disability in all future sustainable developments. In their report, they stressed that all future developments by member states must be made with sustainability and accessibility for all in mind. This call to action will drive sustainable development that targets accessibility within the 193 UN member states.

UN advocacy for sustainability and accessibility translates into funding opportunities for businesses and NGOs who are committed to providing accessible, sustainable development. Interested parties can find further funding opportunities on the UN voluntary fund and through governmental pages.

Jobs in Accessibility + Energy

The increased demand for accessible and renewable energy sources has created a new niche in the energy industry. The renewable energy sector is providing a much-needed boost to the pandemic economy, as 4.2% of all new jobs added nationally are in renewable energy. Additionally, the renewable energy sector provides workers with great salaries — employees new to the field can expect to find salaries of $70,000 or more. 

Whatever the future of energy holds, providers are beholden to the UN’s 2030 Agenda which states that all member states “must include persons with disabilities in their national plans for implementation and monitoring [of sustainable development].” In particular, the 2030 Agenda calls for affordable clean energy which is universally accessible, resilient in the face of crisis, and ensures “the greatest possible independence for persons with disabilities.” To meet this mandate, governments must make significant investments into sustainable and accessible energy which creates sustainable communities for those with disabilities, businesses. The demand for renewable and accessible energy creates interdisciplinary jobs for those working with disabilities and in the energy industry. Prospective employees can find jobs through governmental organizations like the Department of Energy

Beyond Renewable Energy

Our modern problems are intersectional. That means we must find solutions that provide all citizens with equitable access to energy that is sustainably sourced. It may seem a long way off, our renewable future has the potential to deliver answers to issues beyond the climate crisis. If leveraged correctly, renewable sources can give folks living with disabilities the maximum amount of independence, while ensuring that we all receive reliable, sustainable energy. 

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