Imagine a world where poverty has been eliminated and global warming has been brought under control. Imagine this can be done via a single program. Imagine that we can start on this today.
That’s the world envisioned by Solar Dividends, which puts forth a bold new plan—use solar energy to pay for unconditional basic incomes for everyone on the planet. The idea is simple: we set up solar panels for each person, sell the electricity the panels generate, and deliver the money as solar dividends to the person as their basic income, for the rest of their life. This program won’t require tax money because the solar panels pay for themselves through the money they earn by generating electricity. The money won’t run out because the panels are maintained and replaced as needed. And we don’t have to wait for an international treaty because every country receives enough raw solar energy to set up their own program. Solar energy gives us a new way to pay for basic incomes, and basic incomes give us a new reason to build solar energy. Combining these two big ideas will lift everyone out of economic insecurity, reduce the carbon emissions that drive climate change, and assemble a clean energy system that can sustain us indefinitely into the future—all with one program. Solar Dividends makes clear the practical steps to bring about this positive future.
Part A describes a fictional future where solar dividends have been fully implemented and have largely solved the problems of economic insecurity and global warming. Part B outlines the specific steps that can be taken starting today to bring about this bright future. This is a realistic utopian plan based on real hardware generating real money. It does not require international treaties or radical changes to our current economic systems. By making people economically self-sufficient without using taxes, it will appeal to both liberals and conservatives.
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About the Author
His white paper Prospects for the Use of Solar Energy in California prepared for the California State Assembly Office of Research, was a key factor in the passage of AB1558, which established the most advanced solar tax credit in the U.S. One California state department head wrote to David Saxon, President of the University of California at the time, praising the report: "For a scientist to be able to communicate in language a lay person can understand is a rare quality. Mr. Stayton demonstrates this gift in this very fine publication."
Stayton co-founded Energy Action, a research group that received a grant from the California Energy Commission. He also co-founded Energy Future Santa Cruz, a nonprofit organization that received funding from the National Science Foundation to develop an energy plan for Santa Cruz County using input from government agencies, community organizations, schools, and citizens. He also served as Energy Advisor for Santa Cruz County Supervisor Pat Liberty and served on the Energy Advisory Committee for the City of Santa Cruz.
In 1997, Robert and his wife built a passive solar home in Santa Cruz County and outfitted it with an off-grid solar photovoltaic system. He has been living with solar energy since then, always looking for new ways to apply solar in his daily life. He drives a solar-charged Plug-in Prius, heats his water with a solar water heating system, and bakes his bread in his solar oven. He has served as host to hundreds of people who have toured his home to see his solar exploits firsthand.
Stayton's development of the idea of solar dividends marks him as an original thinker with a positive vision of the future. His careful methods of analysis and ability to anticipate questions allows him to convey the idea to a broad audience, many of whom will want to join the effort to enact the program of solar dividends.
Read an Excerpt
The World is Still Functioning in 2099
The year is 2099, and the world is positioning itself to transition from the old 21st century into the new 22nd century. Now is a time to reflect on the past and anticipate the future.
I'm forty-nine years old, and I'm optimistic when I regard that future. My optimism sharply contrasts with the pessimism my grandparents expressed as they grew up in the early decades of the 21st century. Back then, they faced three daunting worldwide problems: economic inequality on the scale of ancient Rome; a vital energy source on the verge of failure; and runaway global warming.
All three problems were growing unchecked and pushing the world toward the collapse of modern society. Government officials often acknowledged the three problems, but couldn't cope with any of them. Economic structures of the day resisted change. Those three problems spanned the globe, but no worldwide political body had sufficient power to overcome the resistance.
Our civilization continued to drift toward cliff edges in three directions. My grandparents felt helpless because all the politicians, academics, and activists in the world couldn't slow their slide into disaster. They wondered what ordinary people might do about those looming worldwide catastrophes.
Yet civilization survived and modern society still functions in 2099. A happenstance combined with intent ushered humanity through the dangerous times.
The happenstance was the Great Energy Crisis in the 2020s which boosted energy prices and focused everyone's attention on the changing economics of energy. That crisis appeared apocalyptic until humanity realized that we could use those higher energy prices to make improvements. That led to the intent part, and it worked.
The actions taken during the 21st century resulted in a new economic order, one that has sustained us to the present, and one that can continue to sustain us into the future. Thankfully, the changes weren't imposed by violent revolution or strong-arm dictators, but by an incremental and peaceful transformation of the energy foundation supporting our world economy.
I can best describe it by telling you the story of one typical increment of that change — my story.CHAPTER 2
My economic story starts just before I was born in 2050. When my parents were young and preparing the baby room for my birth, they also took the extra step of registering me for my standard solar energy array.
They contacted their local community solar cooperative, which was installing photovoltaic panels on solar farms in various locations inside and outside our city. My expectant father and pregnant mother signed me up for a ten-kilowatt section of PV panels at the Cloverfield Solar Farm.
Here's how it worked. My young parents didn't have the money to buy the panels outright, but they didn't need to. When they signed me up, the coop borrowed the money to install the panels with a government-guaranteed loan. The guarantee brought with it government regulation and inspection to prevent fraud.
My parents never had to make payments on that loan. After the coop installed and connected the PV panels on the solar farm, the coop sold the electricity to the local electric utility grid. The $1,000 per month the coop received from the utility company covered the loan payments. The electricity revenue paid back my solar loan by the time I was four years old.
On the day of final payoff, something magical happened: The coop threw a switch, and the money that had been flowing to the bank to pay the loan instead started flowing into my own coop savings account. The money generated by my section of panels accrued to me, minus a small percentage kept by the coop for maintenance and management.
While I was between the ages of four and eighteen, the coop deposited these solar dividends into my personal solar fund. The coop maintained that member account to accumulate the cash that my panels generated. At eighteen, my solar fund held about $200,000 in accumulated solar dividends and interest.
I remember my parents taking me to visit my panels on the solar farm. I saw flat panels mounted on high racks over pasture land. The coop manager explained that my panels were semitransparent, tuned to absorb certain wavelengths of sunlight to generate electricity, while transparent to the specific wavelengths that plants need for photosynthesis. By passing those wavelengths through, the grass could still grow under the panels. I remember seeing the weirdly colored sun as I looked up through the panels because of the differential filtering of the light.
Dairy cows grazed on the grass growing underneath the panels. I think they appreciated the partial shade on hot days and the shelter on rainy days. The semitransparent panels allowed the coop to lease the overhead space at a low price, because the land retained its original use for the farmer. That made the arrangement worthwhile for the farmer who continued to pasture her cows while receiving monthly solar lease payments. The land itself benefited from the partial shade, which reduced water evaporation, encouraging the grass to grow lusher for the cows.
I listened to the speech about how my panels generated clean electricity to solve the world's carbon emissions problem. I also remember that the visit was a bit boring. The panels just sat there in the sun and generated electricity invisible to me and consumed by someone far away. If you've seen one solar panel, you've seen them all.
I remember one part of the talk: that humans have always relied on energy from the sun to survive and grow. We started by burning wood that sunlight grew, progressed through the fossil fuels created by ancient sunlight, and on to the direct solar and wind systems that power our society today. We've always used solar energy, either directly or indirectly, and we always will. My panels represent my piece of that history and future.
While I was still a child, the coop classified me as a junior member. The coop still held my solar panels in my name, and I learned how the coop worked, but I didn't yet have coop voting rights. My mother served as a proxy member and voted on my behalf on any coop issues that came before members. At the age of eighteen I graduated to full coop membership, taking over the voting rights from my mother.
At eighteen another magical change occurred: The coop threw a second switch, and the solar money that had been flowing into my coop savings fund instead flowed directly into my checking account. Every month from the age of eighteen to my current age of forty-nine, I saw a $1,000 electronic deposit from the coop appear in my bank account. As long as the equipment is maintained, I will continue to receive payments.
The $1,000 comes from selling the 13,000 kilowatt-hours (kWh) of electricity per year that my ten-kilowatt PV array generates. The coop sells it to the local utility for $.95 per kWh, and the coop keeps $.02 per kWh for operating expenses, leaving me with $.93 per kWh. That generates $12,000 for the year, which is divided into twelve payments. That's how I get a $1,000 solar dividend appearing in my bank account every month.
That money arrives with no strings attached regarding how I use it. It is my personal responsibility to manage my own solar dividends, based on the guidance provided by my parents and the coop.
I call them my panels, but I don't actually own them. The coop retains ownership of the hardware. What I'm granted is the right to the solar dividends the panels generate. I can't sell my panels because I don't own them. I can't mortgage my future solar dividends either, as that would violate coop rules and cause me to lose my dividends.
I'm glad I don't own the panels, as my life would be more complicated if I did. If I moved away, I couldn't easily take them with me, and my new home might not be suitable to mount them. Since I derive only money from the panels (someone else uses the energy), the panels can stay where they are and the coop can wire the money to me wherever I go.
Why would the coop be so generous with me? It's not. I'm a member of a coop whose stated purpose in its charter is to deliver solar dividends to members. So the coop is not being generous, it's fulfilling its purpose. Coops differ from corporations because they optimize benefits to members, not to shareholders.
After graduating from high school, I had a nest egg in my solar fund and a small income showing up on my bank statement every month, so I was ready to start my adult life. Like many of my peers, I decided to go to college. Education had grown in importance because paid jobs for uneducated people were becoming scarce. Robots and artificial intelligence were continuing to take over most physical work and menial tasks, so there wasn't much future in being a laborer.
My solar dividends made it much easier to attend college. I paid my living expenses with my monthly dividends, living the frugal life of a student in a shared household. If need be, I had access to my solar fund for emergencies. But I tried to preserve that fund, as I anticipated buying a house or starting a business after graduation.
Tuition at most state colleges is free, for two reasons. The first is that scientific research showed how a more highly educated population was more productive, prosperous, and happy, so the investment in education improved society in many ways.
The second reason is solar dividends freed up money that formerly went to welfare programs. People receiving solar dividends don't need food stamps, unemployment insurance, or monthly welfare checks. In the U.S. alone, authorities eventually diverted most of the $130 billion per year that had subsidized low-wage workers in 20153 to other uses by 2050. Governments converted part of the welfare savings into free tuition for state colleges.
After college, I took my first job, earning enough money to allow my monthly solar dividends to again accumulate in my solar fund. But my employer eliminated my job after four years. The world was continuing its transition to robotics and artificial intelligence, and the company automated my job out from under me.
After my layoff, I fell back on my solar dividends, living in a shared household again. I wanted to work because I preferred to live a lifestyle a cut above that which my basic solar dividends supported. I also derive personal satisfaction from doing worthwhile work and interacting with people.
I took a few classes to improve my qualifications, but paid jobs were scarce. It took a year of searching, but I finally found another job that satisfied me. Without the support of solar dividends, I would have been forced to accept any job. With those dividends I could take time to find a good job.
When I was twenty-five, my solar panels needed replacement after twenty-five years in the sun. Replacement costs were much lower than the original panels because of technological advances while I was growing up. The coop paid for the replacements out of a fund they had built up for that purpose.
My replacement panels used the latest nano-antenna technology with a fifty-year estimated lifetime, so the coop will probably not need to replace them until I'm seventy-five. The replacements were also twice as efficient as the old panels. That freed up half the original land area to support another coop member.
At the age of twenty-seven I got married, and my wife and I merged our two solar incomes so we could rent our own apartment. We planned to use our combined solar funds to buy a house. Our intention was to start a family and enroll our own children in the solar dividend program because it was such a good experience for us. People joined not because they had to, but because it was valuable to their children. And it cost nothing to sign up.
Some of my friends took different paths, developing their literary, artistic or musical talents instead of working paid jobs. You could take time off, live cheaply, and write that great book or song that floated in the back of your mind. Some were financially successful in their creative efforts, and others lived on the basic support coming from their solar dividends, but no artists were literally starving.
You don't get rich on your solar dividends, so most people work to rise above the basic income. But it's their choice: they don't have to work to just survive, forced to take any available job no matter how bad. Your survival didn't depend on your having a job.
Solar dividends gave some industrious individuals the means to develop their own businesses. While working regular jobs, they used their solar dividends to buy equipment and supplies, develop marketing materials, and hire help to set up their enterprises.
Some people choose to live a life of simplicity, supported mostly by their solar dividends. They can pursue socially beneficial but unpaid activities such as caring for their children or elder relatives, cleaning up the environment, or engaging in social activism. Such a life lacks luxury and can be difficult, but it can also be immensely satisfying to put your time and energy into what you believe in.
Some refrain from contributing to society, either from laziness or antisocial hostility, but that's their choice. Solar dividends grant freedom — freedom from government control of your life through welfare requirements, and freedom from odious and degrading jobs. As long as you don't harm others, no one objects because you aren't sponging off of working people, but are living on the income from your own solar panels.
My parents are now retired and living on their solar dividends, Social Security, and the investments they made during their lifetimes. I soon must spend time providing more care and support for them in their old age, and I'll be able to do that with the flexibility of my solar dividends.
I can safely make plans for how I'll spend my future monthly solar dividends because the source is secure. Since the government isn't paying for them, I don't have to worry about a change of government that decides it can no longer afford the luxury of unconditional basic incomes.
Now that I'm forty-nine and the kids are out of the house, I'm thinking of becoming an artisan woodcrafter. I'll use my solar fund to set up a shop, and use my monthly dividends to support me during my startup. I might not get rich, but I expect to have a satisfying life of work creating beautiful and useful things, because life is not about being lazy but about expressing one's own vitality.CHAPTER 3
Solar for Everyone
The solar dividend program worked so well to keep people out of poverty that governments set up solar dividend programs for adults who'd missed getting signed up at birth. Although the solar farms used tax money to install panels, the electricity they produced paid back the investment during the first few years of operation, so there was no net cost to taxpayers. After payback, the government could grant the revenue streams as solar dividends to individuals.
In 2076, when I was twenty-six, the world completed the build-out of solar for everyone, all over the world. Every country had policies in place to help people get connected to solar dividends. Countries with many people living in extreme poverty in remote villages took longer, but eventually the programs excluded no one who wanted to take part. The effort wiped out most of the crushing poverty that had plagued civilizations for centuries. Governments could phase out most welfare programs paid for by taxes because everyone was getting solar dividends.
Solar dividends have always been my economic safety net. My parents' actions at my birth in 2050 established a solid economic foundation for my life. The government doesn't control it, except to regulate the coops to ensure they're honestly taking care of their members. No one tells me what to do or how to spend my money. I'm a self-reliant person free to contribute to society as I see fit.
And so is everyone else. Solar electricity proved to be an exceptional match for funding basic incomes for everyone. First, the solar systems pay for themselves, so they don't need continuous funding from taxes. As the solar dividend programs grew and reached more people, they did not add a continuously growing demand for more tax money.
Second, solar PV is modular, so just adding a new increment of solar panels can cover each new person. There's no need to risk millions of dollars on huge power plants when a small loan can cover one individual's needs. That simple pattern repeats until the program includes everyone.
Third, solar electricity is a reliable source of income. While some months get more sun than others, the long-term average of solar energy arriving in a given location is dependable. The solar farms calculate the monthly solar dividends from that long-term average, not month-to-month production. And electricity is a commodity that will always be in demand.
And fourth, solar energy is available worldwide. This allowed every nation to set up solar systems within its borders to offer economic security for its own citizens. Locations with less sun required systems larger than ten kilowatts per person, but never more than twice as large. A few places with abundant wind power and little sun instead opted to build wind farms to generate solar dividends.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Solar Dividends"
Copyright © 2019 Robert Stayton.
Excerpted by permission of Sandstone Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
The Idea ............................................................................ v
Part A: A Vision of the Future .......................................... 1
1 The World is Still Functioning in 2099 ............................ 3
2 My Story ........................................................................... 5
3 Solar for Everyone .......................................................... 13
4 Our Solar-Powered Economy in 2099 ........................... 17
5 Carbon Emissions Under Control in 2099 ..................... 25
6 Energy Prices Go Up ...................................................... 29
7 We Adapted to Higher Energy Prices ............................ 35
8 Massive Boost to the Economy ...................................... 41
Part B: Building That Future .......................................... 45
9 Unconditional Basic Income .......................................... 47
10 Solar Dividends as Basic Incomes .................................. 55
11 The True Value of Solar Energy ..................................... 61
12 Toward a Fair Economy ................................................. 73
13 Organizing for Solar Dividends ...................................... 79
14 Start with a Pilot Project ................................................ 91
15 Conclusion ...................................................................... 97
A Do The Numbers Add Up? ........................................... 103
Notes and References ................................................... 109