Division between America’s two political parties reached a fever pitch in this election season. These days it’s easy to assume Republicans and Democrats don’t agree on much, if anything at all. But if a new study is any indication, residential solar power may be one surprising area where right and left find common ground.
Last week PowerScout, a startup company that serves as a marketplace for clean-energy products and services, set out to determine whether Democrats or Republicans adopted more rooftop solar.
They pulled the addresses of 1.5 million Democratic and Republican party donors in the top 20 solar states and analyzed their rooftops using satellite images and an image-recognition model.
Their discovery? The solar adoption rate among the two parties was more or less the same. A little over 3 percent of Democratic donors in those states installed rooftop solar, compared to 2.24 percent of Republican donors. In some areas, Republicans were even more likely to have solar installed than their Democratic neighbors.
“We went in with an open mind,” Kumar Dhuvur, co-founder of PowerScout, told TriplePundit. “We wanted to really look at the hard data.”
His team decided to look at the people who actually donate money to one of the two major political parties. Donor data is publicly available, so they “thought it would be a nice way to test it,” Dhuvur explained.
“This topic has been portrayed as a partisan topic, but I think what this study clearly shows is that clean energy is bipartisan,” Dhuvur told us.
“It has a significant amount of support from people. And if you consider that donors are usually the ones who are more partisan, and you see the data that Republican donors are installing as much solar if not more, then it’s clearly a non-partisan topic.”
In states like California and Hawaii that have well-established solar markets, party affiliation does not matter when it comes to adopting rooftop solar. In Hawaii, Republicans install more solar than Democrats do, while in California the rate is nearly equal.
As Dhuvur said, “Republicans are actually doing more than Democrats” in more established markets. In states that have solar markets that are not well-established, Democrats install more solar than do Republicans. “Democrats have a lead but not by much,” he explained.
PowerScout hopes the study “leads to more favorable policies from the new administration that exist at the federal level,” Dhuvur told us. He said their study shows “there is a lot of interest in clean energy if the economics are compelling.”
So policies needs to promote the economics of clean energy. And with an administration like President Trump’s, it becomes even more important to break things down financially.
A previous study by SolarPulse, released last fall, found similar results.
SolarPulse, a Denver-based energy company, reviewed data of 25,000 California households that installed solar panels from 1997 to 2015. They found that people in a district that elected a Republican to Congress are “far more likely” to install solar power for their homes than those that elected a Democrat.
California leans heavily to the Democratic party, with 39 of the state’s 53 House representatives being Democrats. The state also produces more energy from rooftop solar panels than any other state in the country. So, it is surprising that SolarPulse found that Republican-leaning areas were five times more likely to install rooftop solar panels. While 1 in every 100 households in areas that elected Republicans bought solar panels in the last five years, only 1 in every 500 households in areas that elected a Democrat did.
SolarPulse found that income does not account for the higher solar power adoption rates in California’s Republican districts as Democratic districts have a median per-capita income that is about $8,000 higher. However, the Democratic districts they examined have more renters. While only 40.5 percent of Republicans in California are renters, nearly 50 percent of California Democrats rent.
That accounts for part of the reason why Republicans in California adopt solar more than Democrats do, but geography also plays a big part. Republican districts generally lie in the sunny southeastern parts of the state, while Democratic districts lie in the cooler northern and coastal areas of California. The average Republican district has five time more days of sun annually.
In other words, Californians are adopting solar for practical reasons and party affiliation just is not playing a part — a conclusion the latest study from PowerScout backs up.
Will these findings pave the way for more friendly conversation between Republicans and Democrats — or friendlier environmental policies coming out of Washington? Only time will tell.
Image credit: Flickr/Elliot Brown