If you’re like me, the recent performance of stocks, bonds, real estate and some other so-called “safe” investments has been playing havoc with my tolerance for risk. Our 401(k) has performed like a yoyo since financial markets crashed back in 2008 and more like deadweight since the new year started.

Since then, I’ve moved most of my investments into low return but “safe” money markets and certificates of deposit, lowering my returns down to what I call “why bother” rates.

The returns promised by investment houses just don’t materialize any more unless you’re willing to take on high risk and expose your principal. But there is a not very well understood option, a way to diversify your investment portfolio while garnering significant returns. Known to only a select few, a solar photovoltaic (PV) system can typically return 7 percent to 15 percent on your investment.

Here’s how it works:

The cost of a typical solar PV system is averaging about $30,000. First, right off the top, you’re eligible for a 30 percent federal tax credit, or in this case $9,000, and a South Carolina income tax credit of 25 percent, or $7,500. Depending on your tax situation, your actual out of pocket could be as low as $13,500.

For this net cost, you can expect to reduce your electric bill about $1,500 in the first year. This results in a simple return on investment (ROI) of over 11 percent. And it’s an “after-tax” return because you don’t report the savings on your electric bill as taxable income.

One more thing; as utility rates increase, your savings go up too. So a return on investment of 11 percent today could be over 15 percent in 10 years with the way our utility companies are constantly raising rates.

If you pay income taxes (and, with the way our government spends money, who doesn’t?), this is a great investment to consider, especially when you don’t put your principal investment at risk.

When you buy a solar system, no one can take it away from you. Try convincing your broker or financial advisor to protect your principal investment when the market crashes.

There are also programs to help you get to the end of the first year without any out-of-pocket outlays. In effect, you can buy a $30,000 solar system and only pay $13,500.

With that kind of savings in a safe investment such as solar, you can add diversity to your portfolio.

So, the question you have to ask your investment advisor is can you get me an average return on investment of 11 percent on an investment whose principal can’t go down? And, can you do that without affecting my current cash flow? The answer is yes, if you invest in solar.

Tom Ferraro manages the Solar Division at Carolina Energy Conservation with offices in Bluffton and Myrtle Beach. www.carolinaec.com