Libertarian ideologies have always seemed like failures of imagination to me, with their notions of privatized police forces and for-profit healthcare and prisons actively working to turn the world into something more like a dystopian Hellscape than a shining Utopia. Still, I like to believe that I can find common ground with just about anyone, and I think that the place for an environmentally-conscious person like myself to look for that common ground with libertarians isn’t on the ground at all. It’s up in the sky — on the roof, anyway. That common ground: solar power.
Why would libertarians embrace solar power? I’m glad you asked!
Private Property Rights
Libertarians are a difficult lot to pin down and define, but one thing they can usually agree with is that libertarians are obsessed with the notion of property. “Libertarians are virtually defined by their commitment to both liberty and rights of private property,” writes Matt Zwolinski, a Professor of Philosophy at the University of San Diego and contributor to libertarianism.org. “Some libertarians … even go so far as to equate the two — arguing that liberty really just is property.”
What does that emphasis on property have to do with solar power? In the age of battery-powered cars and the electric fuel they need to run, it has everything to do with property. That’s because, for the first time ever, consumers have the opportunity to own their fuel.
And I don’t mean “own their fuel” in the “buy a bunch of gasoline and store it in tin cans, zombie apocalypse-style.” I mean that consumers can now genuinely own their fuel, from its production, to its storage, to its end use, with no one standing in their way. And they can accomplish that by combining solar panels, batteries, and electric vehicles.
Own Your Fuel — Step 1
Let’s get one thing clear. The reason solar power isn’t more widely championed has nothing to do with the technology being unable to supply enough power to the grid, and everything to do with solar supplying too much power to the grid, and driving down the price/profit motive of providing electricity. Don’t take my word for it, though, take MIT’s.
So, step 1 is to get your hands on some of that sweet, sweet solar juice — and, for our purposes, that means slapping some solar panels on the roof of your suburban home. That stuff’s not free, obviously, but there’s a good chance you’ll save quite a bit on your electric bill. Plus, there are lots of federal, state, and even local utility incentives available to help drive the initial costs of a rooftop solar installation down. And that roof? That’s yours.
“Homeowners have the right to decide what they do with their own roofs,” writes Barry Goldwater, Jr. “That includes installing solar panels to power their homes. When utility monopolies ask Big Government to dictate how customers use their roofs, they attack the conservative way.”
Best of all, from a libertarian perspective, is that all that tax money going towards solar incentives was yours to begin with — you’re just getting it back when you claim those solar rebates!
Own Your Fuel — Step 2
Once you have the fuel, you’ll need a place to store it — especially if your energy needs vary considerably with changing seasons. That’s where a home battery like the ever-improving Tesla Powerwall comes into play, allowing fuel owners freedoms they never had in the past.
“Homeowners with batteries can charge them at night when electricity rates are very low and then use the electricity during the peak cost period to save money,” writes Jake Richardson. “It’s also possible, in some cases, to send some of your stored or self-generated electricity back to the grid to receive a small payment or credit.”
Selling the fuel that you produced to customers that want it at a market-guided price point? Sound like some pretty heady libertarian stuff to me — but there are some decidedly environmentalist benefits to this arrangement, as well. “As a homeowner and an electricity consumer … [customers need] to be very careful about using power between 4 pm and 8 pm,” Jake says, in that same article. “This is the peak time when electricity is not only expensive, it’s the dirtiest. Being able to avoid consumption during these key hours provides a new kind of freedom for homeowners — freedom from high electricity costs and the dirtiest fossil fuels.”
Own Your Fuel — Step 3
Now that you’ve started making your own fuel and storing it in your garage (or whatever), it’s time for the fun part: using it!
Sure, you could do something sensible with all your captive electrons and heat your home or refrigerate your dairy products, but it’s silly to have a box that you keep cold inside another box that you keep warm because it’s too cold outside, right?
You know what’s not less silly? Blasting out of the hole on a prepped racetrack laying some automotive shade on the V84EVR crowd in your seven-passenger electric car. You can live in your car, after all, but you can’t race your house.
Will Anyone Really Care?
This is an interesting question, I think — because I always feel like the libertarian desire to de-regulate things like fracking and air pollution are anti-environmentalist views, at odds with my preconceived notions of solar power champions. The “official” libertarian view, though, is considerably more nuanced.
“Libertarians agree that global warming is real and the climate is changing in a manner that will make it difficult for…