Today’s life expectancy in America is eight years longer than it was in 1970. That’s eight more years to enjoy retirement; and eight more years of savings to put away. In a challenging economy, there are various factors that can threaten a comfortable retirement, such as declining property values and interest rates, higher living and health care expenses, and a lower percentage of employer contributions. A well-planned retirement strategy is crucial.
When trying to make a lump sum last 30 years, it can be difficult to stay on budget. Financial planners often recommend turning retirement savings into a steady stream of income to help pay bills.
One source that can be used to generate steady revenue—a source we can rely on for millions of years—is sunshine. More people are discovering that by purchasing their own solar panels and harnessing the sun’s energy to produce their own power, it’s possible to collect a paycheck without lifting a finger.
On the Rooftop
Newt and Inez Stevens, a couple in their 80s, utilize the sun in multiple capacities. Living in a retirement community in Phoenix, Ariz., the Stevens use solar PV and solar thermal panels to charge their electric vehicle, heat 90 percent of their hot water and power half of their duplex. “For us, solar was a practical solution,” Newt tells The Daily Green. “Our primary motivation was economic … And if we produce more than we use, the power company will pay us the difference. We’re seeing a better return on our investment than anything I can get at the banks or stock market.”
Roofless Community Solar
Installing rooftop solar panels may not be practical, or desirable. Community or “roofless” solar allows anyone with a utility bill to purchase solar panels, offset their electric bill, and generate on-bill credits for the energy their panels produce. “It seems the cost of electricity has only and is only going up, as well as how much electricity we need,” said Jim McDaniels, who purchased 25 panels in a roofless solar array in Colorado. “I wanted to reduce my electricity cost and help the environment at the same time. I wanted to plan for my future.”
After his projected 13-year payback period, Daniels will receive free electricity, as he calls it, saving an estimated $160,000. “The savings should give me a better chance at an affordable retirement,” McDaniels said.
For the hands-on, ambitious type like Rich Herr, a retired electrical engineer, constructing a solar system from scratch was the most appealing option. With the help of his friends, Herr built a 20-panel ground-mounted system in his Valparaiso, Ind. backyard for around $13,000, reports the Post-Tribune. “For the money I put in it, the return on [the solar system] is better than the return I get on my 401 (k),” Herr said. “I’m not getting money in my hand, that’s just money I don’t have to pay.”