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.
Stuart Ritter, vice president of T. Rowe Price Investment Services, says it can be difficult to stay on budget while trying to make a lump sum last 30 years, especially in the first years of retirement. “That’s why we encourage people to think of it more in terms of income [stream], and not as a balance,” he tells USA Today.
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
Orange County, Calif. residents Wendy Moonier and her husband Fidel Garza were brainstorming how to manage their money for retirement. After the mortgage was paid off, the electricity bill would remain—and increase as the years progressed. With a roof that needed replacing and the attractive California solar rebates, it was the ideal time to go solar. Moonier and Garza purchased a 30-panel solar photovoltaic (PV) rooftop system from Southern California Edison. They’re saving several thousand dollars each year on electricity and expect their system to pay for itself in 15 years. “It’s the best investment we’ve ever made on our home,” Moonier reveals. “When I saw how well this works, I thought everybody should have this … It’s the only thing we’ve done on our home where we’ve seen an immediate return.”
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.”
Installing solar on your home or business may not be practical—or desirable. Community-owned solar allows anyone with a utility bill to own solar panels, offset their electric bill, and collect income for the clean energy they 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 of Colorado Springs, Colo. “I wanted to reduce my electricity cost and help the environment at the same time. I wanted to plan for my future.”
McDaniels began researching online, reading newspaper articles and posting questions on solar energy forums when he discovered community solar developer Clean Energy Collective. He purchased 25 solar electric panels in the Colorado Springs Community Solar Array with a 10-year loan, offsetting 120 percent of his electricity use (the maximum percentage that Colorado Springs allows). “I decided it was a great deal so I went with the maximum and surplus months,” McDaniels said. After his projected 13-year payback period, he’ll receive free electricity – earning 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.”