Solar bridges the political divide

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A study published by Nature Energy, Households with solar installations are ideologically diverse and more politically active than their neighbours, has found that solar households are substantially more likely to be politically active than their neighbors, and that political activity is not skewed disproportionately towards one party. The study used a combination of satellite imagery and voter file data to examine the political identities of US households with residential solar installations, finding that while there was a slight majority towards solar-owning Democrats, that was credited more towards the partisan makeup of the neighborhood rather than political opinions towards solar.

Specifically, the study found that 34% of members of solar-adopting households are registered Democrats as compared with 31% in control households. In solar-adopting households, 20% are registered Republicans, as compared with 22% in control households.

One might expect that this data would be skewed more towards the political left, a hypothesis that the authors of the study, Matto Mildenberger, Peter D. Howe and Chris Miljanich, offer some insight into. While not directly proving this to be the case, the authors theorize that democratic solar adoption has been driven more by a belief in manmade climate change and a desire to gravitate away from using fossil fuels to provide electricity. While belief in climate change exists as a factor for adoptions among conservatives, it is far less common among the political right.

GOP residential solar adoption, in this theory, is more commonly attributed to the idea of the right to self generate. The study references the number of Republican states which passed renewable energy support policies in the 1990s and early 2000s, the ‘Green Tea Party’ bringing conservatives together with environmental groups to campaign for net metering in Georgia and Florida and Barry Goldwater Jr acting as the spokesperson for a campaign in Arizona to protect renewable energy laws from utility attacks.

It’s wildly interesting to see even the most polarizing ends of the political spectrum supporting the same idea, but with very different reasons for doing so. It’s a phenomenon that doesn’t seem to happen anywhere else politically.

The study then went into the political activity of these solar households in comparison to the control group and found that households with solar are more likely to participate on both general and primary elections that their non-generational counterparts. The one area with a large gap in disparity between the two parties of solar households was in regards to political donations, but the overall insignificant portion of people that donate to begin with make the disparity less significant.

That being said, the study found that 0.9% had made a political donation during the time period of focus (2008-20017). By contrast, only 0.3% of the Republican sample had made political donations over the same period. The results then flip again, because while Republicans donated less as a whole, their average donation amount was higher, coming in at $657, while the median donation size among Democrats was $500.

Solar is in a very unique position. It is able to capitalize on the support of both political parties, even when those parties ideologies over the role of renewable energies clash. Democrats and Republicans don’t agree on why residential solar is a worthwhile source of energy, just that it is. Naturally that raises a question: does it matter? Does it matter that someone took the same action as you, but did so by following beliefs they you yourself either don’t agree with or downright oppose?