Meet the Solar Seniors

Most people think that rooftop solar panels appeal to tech-savvy early adopters in their prime earning years.

Enter the Solar Seniors: elderly residents drawn to solar power amid concerns about rising electricity bills. They’ve become one of the solar industry’s most powerful demographics.

“Seniors are generally motivated by solar’s ability to fix their electricity costs (or at least the solar portion), and for the opportunity to do something positive for future generations,” said Jonathan Bass of SolarCity.

100-year-old Ida Pieracci,  a widow who lives in East San Jose, may be the oldest Solar Senior around. She shares her home, which was built in 1955, with five relatives: her great-nephew Matthew, his wife Karen and their three young children. Multi-generational households have become a hallmark of the recession, but also struggle with higher utility bills. The family of six typically faced a monthly PG&E bill of about $300.

“When we first talked about going solar, Ida said ‘Oh no, I don’t want to do that,” said Karen Herrick, who describes Ida as her mother-in-law’s aunt. “But we talked to her about the fact that utility bills are going higher and higher, and then she was very excited.”

Pieracci plays golf every week at the San Jose Country Club and often tells friends about the fact that she’s gone “hi-tech” with solar. Gen110, a start-up that scouts neighborhoods for the most energy intensive households, introduced Pieracci and her family to Sunrun, which handled the installation and financing.

To be sure, solar customers tend to be homeowners with equity in their homes and good credit, a demographic that naturally skews to at least middle-age. But Oakland-based Sungevity says that roughly 15 percent of their customers are 65 and older; five percent are older than 75.

Pieracci is the oldest solar customer that we know of. We’d love to collect more stories of solar seniors: you can send your stories, and high-resolution photos, to dhull@mercurynews.com.

 

Dana Hull Dana Hull (244 Posts)

Dana Hull covers clean technology and energy policy for the San Jose Mercury News. She often writes about electric vehicles, the smart grid, the solar industry and California energy policy, from RPS goals to Gov. Jerry Brown's big dreams for distributed generation.