One of the largest markets for solar power is senior living communities, both those run by private companies and those managed by state or municipal agencies. For the most part, these are solar panel installations to supplement on-grid power and reduce energy and operating costs.
For communities managed by corporations or government agencies, it’s logical: the cost of running senior living communities, whether post-55 complexes or those providing assisted living or advanced care services, have small profit margins.
Along with lowering operating costs, solar energy programs instituted at senior communities often take advantage of incentives offered by federal and state agencies.
Lessons from Decades Past
Many people who buy and use solar panels and solar lighting are part over 55. To some, it may seem surprising that the “older crowd” would be so open to new technologies, even when many renewable subsidies are expiring with an unknown future given the recent debt ceiling and related financial issues in Washington, DC.
The fact is that unlike many younger members of the Green Community, these folks lived through the 1970s energy crisis and know that reliance on traditional fossil fuels will continually be more expensive and that the United States must become to be less reliant on fuel from the Middle East.
This certainly does not mean that environmental concerns are not a factor.
One resident of a 12-acre, 318 unit campus in Portland, OR that “went green” wrote to the facilities’ management to commend them “for their interest is protecting the environment.” The CherryWood Village Retirement Community in Portland installed a 92.4 kilowatt solar panel system that is estimated to reduce the facility’s main building electric bills by an estimated 25% annually. CherryWood Village is both a retirement and assisted living housing community.
Since Oregon is not a region known for its sunshine, it shows how far solar technology has come in recent years.
Other regions that have or are now “Going Green” with solar include a 36-unit apartment building for moderate and low income senior citizens in Medford, NJ.
In fact, the project is presently one of four national finalists for the 2011 award for “best New Senior Housing Development,” granted by Affordable Housing Finance, a national trade magazine serving the affordable housing development market.
The Medford, NJ, senior residence was completed in September 2010 and with full occupancy by December 2010. Along with one and two bedroom units, building amenities include a community room, a laundry room, a lounge, a computer room and a wellness room. The new construction included a major solar roof panel installation. Along with communities in Northern and Southern California, the other finalist is located in Pennsylvania.
Even so, the California and the Sunbelt is where solar power took hold years ago and these regions have the most senior residences with hybrid solar systems.
In 2010, the City of Indian Wells, CA upgraded its Indian Wells Villa senior citizen apartment complex. The 90-duplex development with a clubhouse and pool spreads across 10 acres of property was originally built in 1992. In 2010, the owners did an energy retrofit that included new roofing, high efficiency air conditioners, water heaters, and toilets. The solar installation comprised of 1,092 solar panels, 39 inverters, and a web-based, 24/7 state of the art monitoring system.
The system, combined with the other energy-savings measures, is expected to reduce the low-income tenants’ annual electric bill by 80-90%. The $3.2 million project was funded by the City of Indian Wells Redevelopment Agency, coupled with $1.8 million from Southern California Edison through Multi-Family Affordable Solar Housing (MASH) incentives and grants. It was designed and installed by Solar Distributors, Inc. of Palm Desert, CA.
As a retailer of solar lighting, one of the author’s first large sale involved a residential community in Florida that was an “over 55” condominium complex. When they wanted to replace 72 lamp posts, they told me they looked at solar for two reasons: reducing operating costs and environmental impacts; incentives were not available and were therefore not part of the decision making process.
Advocacy Plays a Role
As energy costs rise and both managers and residents of senior complexes become more conscious of energy costs, more solar development seems inevitable. And, website and publications for these communities are a key part of the effort.
For example, USSeniorCitizen.com, “U.S. Senior Citizen Resources for America’s Senior Citizens” continually educate their audience on the benefits of renewable energy.
The American Association for Retired People (AARP) also actively supports renewable energy through its online resources and magazine.
The AARP regularly publishes bulletins on the latest in incentive changes and other ways to save energy and articles on off-grid homes, “My Generation: Going Green,” “SolarCity Sees Bright Future for Residential Solar Systems,” and “Which US States Lead in Clean Energy.”
It’s still unclear what the future holds in terms of incentives for renewable energies, a topic deserving of its own article after the dust in Washington, DC settles and details of where spending cuts will occur.
Which means that regardless of your age, it’s a great time to make your voice heard: if renewable energy is an area you want the government to invest in, particularly rather than subsidies to traditional energy sources such as oil companies, now is the time to make your voice heard.
It’s easier than you think: phone, write or email your senators and congressional representative. True, the lobbyists spend the money, but ultimately its the voters who make the decision in the ballot box.
And one thing younger generations can learn from senior citizens is how to make their voices heard, a key reason Florida is a “battleground election state.” Senior citizens know very well how to make their interests, and the fact that they vote, known very well to politicians.