Once upon a time home solar PV systems were only the playthings of off-the-grid hippies and Hollywood celebrities. But now a dramatic drop in the price of solar has made it a sound investment for nearly all of us (as well as a major win for the environment). This is thanks to a cornucopia of national and local installation incentives, as well as improvements in PV technology, and competition from a massive oversupply from China.
If you live in a sunny part of the U.S., a typical home solar installation will now pay for itself in less than 10 years. Sites like find-solar.org can calculate how quickly solar will payback for you based on your average monthly electricity bill, local incentives, and the amount of sunshine your home receives each year. There are also now a number of companies (like 1BOG, Real Goods, Brightstar, and CSS) that will install solar systems for free, provided you sign a contract to purchase power for a fixed period of time (with electricity prices that are still typically cheaper than what you get charged by your utility). It’s also worth checking out crowdfunding platforms that finance solar in both the U.S. (Mosaic) and the developing world (SunFunder).
Of course it takes energy (and associated greenhouse gas emissions) to make solar panels, but with improvements in technology the energy and emissions generally get paid back in carbon-free electricity production in less than 4 years, and future efficiency improvements could decrease this payback period to about a year. So, although the current low solar prices are hard on manufactures, the future for solar has never looked brighter for both the planet and your pocketbook!