Investing in a 401k is Dumb, Investing in 4.01kW of Solar is Smart

Back in the 90’s when I first entered into the professional world I was strongly urged by investment “experts” to invest as much of my salary into a 401k retirement plan as possible, as I should be able to reasonably expect a 5-20% return on my investment. Fifteen years later I still have not seen these hyped up returns on my investment. And, all this time later, with my 401k now rolled over to a SEP IRA, my effective interest rate is less than 1%. I suppose I should consider myself fortunate in having what I put into it, considering how so many folks now at the retirement age lost money in the 401k and SEP IRA/stock market over-hype. Perhaps if I was interested in monitoring stocks, mutual funds and foreign currencies I’d been able to play the “game” better and could have generated a better return. But that interests me about as much as playing backgammon. I don’t want to worry about having to play the stock market “game.” After all, isn’t that why the retirement fund managers get their annual fees and million dollar bonuses?

I just want to invest a part of my salary periodically and feel that when the day comes, I can retire and live a simple life comfortably. I, frankly, no longer believe my private retirement plan is going to be anymore than a poor investment that will be able to carry me financially for more than just a few years at best. Enter solar…Now, let’s compare this to investing in a solar energy system instead. With the various renewable energy state rebates and federal taxes incentives in the US, you can reasonably expect to get an effective ROI of 8 to 14% for the next two to three decades, if not more. And, unlike the stock market retirement fund racket, this is a sure investment.

How? Well, the common grid-tie solar panel (solar electric) system pays for itself after rebates in 6 to 12 years and then it just continues to pay down your electric bill for the decades to come. Most solar panels can be expected to continue producing power beyond 25 years. After all, most solar panel manufacturers warranty their power output to 80% for up to 25 years. And, if solar panels in 1970’s serve as a predictor of the reliability of ones produced today, you should be able to expect at least another one to two decades of serious power production out of them.

So, if your plans are to live in the home you have for the next few decades, it seems far smarter to invest first in a sure thing for your retirement (your need for electricity and the bills that would otherwise come with it) than the casino game that is the stock market. The only downside is you can’t keep investing more in a solar electric system and get more out of it – once you’ve bought one that meets your needs, that’s it. Investment nugget secured. Fortunately, there’s something even smarter than a solar electric system for your retirement, but that’s for next time…


  1. mike seitler

    My apologies to Chris – my comments were directed to Sascha (the author of the original post)

  2. mike seitler

    Chris – your point is clear but you seem a bit elitist. Anyone who puts their money into a retiremnet fund of any kind and expects that it can go unattended until retirement with a 20% return is either naive or just plain stupid. Any apparatus (solar systems/retirement plans) require attention, maintenance and upgrades periodically. to simply expect that something will work in perpetuity is inviting failure. And, even if you’re not proficient with a particular system you should invest in an experienced mechanic, money fund manager, or electrician to ensure your system has a reliable life expectancy.

    As for the analogy to backgammon well your snobbery is clear. As a champion player who has made thousands of dollars playing backgammon I can honestly say that my earnings to layout far out strip anything I’ve invested in either solar or a retirement funds.

  3. Chris

    I could not agree more. PV modules have dropped radically in price over the last few years and technologies like micro inverters make it simpler to install smaller sized systems.

    While it is hard for me personally to drop $20k-$30k at the moment on a PV system to run my whole home (as you had to do a few years ago), now I can invest a thousand or two a year and build my PV system over time, based on my own budget and investment strategy. If I had more to invest in solar power I would, but it’s the most I can contribute right now.

    Thermal systems continue to be an obvious investment too with one of the most incredible ROI’s for RE technology. It’s a shame that we don’t have a solar water heater on every roof!

  4. Staci

    Bookmarked, I love your site! 🙂

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