The cost of purchasing and installing a solar power system can usually be recouped over the life of the system, but with full home solar power systems costing as much as $30,000, making the move into solar power is a big commitment that you should consider thoroughly before pulling the trigger.
The first question on most consumers' minds will be "how much does it cost?" The answer to this question isn't as simple as it might seem. Everyone's energy usage is different, and depending on the size and type of roof you have, as well as your average daily exposure to sunlight, there's a lot to consider when putting together the perfect system to suit your needs.
Your Energy Usage
The first question to ask yourself is, "how much energy do you currently use?" Pull out your electric bills and take a look at how much you've spent in the last year on electricity and how many kWh you've used. The amount you've spent will indicate how much you can save by switching, and will also let you calculate how long it'll take for your solar power system to pay for itself. The kWh usage will be important as you start looking at what kind of panels to use and how many. You want to get a solar power system to will cover your current usage, then build in a little breathing room (around 15-20%) so as you buy a bigger TV, get a new appliance, etc, you'll have enough electricity to go around.
Check the Forecast
Weather is a major factor with solar power, and depending on what part of the country you live in, energy generation from homes equipped with solar power systems can vary drastically. A recent study by the Florid Solar Energy Center measured the actual amount of electricity generated in a day from a 2-kW photovoltaic system, and the results showed homes in rainy areas like Seattle, WA with around 5 kWh/day, while desert areas like Albuquerque, New Mexico raked in 8.5 kWh/day on the same system. While it's fairly obvious that the desert is going to have more sun than Seattle, the amount of energy generated from solar panels varies a great deal in all sorts of locations, so researching how solar performs in your area will help you make an informed purchase.
Rebates are a major incentive for most consumers when it comes to solar power, and if you're lucky enough to live in Colorado, you could receive as much as 90% of the cost of your solar power system in rebates and tax credits. Of course, Colorado isn't the only state with rebates; in fact, nearly every state in the union offers additional rebates and incentives for new purchases of solar power technology. In addition to the state rebates, there is also a federal program through 2016 that covers up to 30% of your solar power system, so even if you don't have any state or county programs, it will still be worth it to take advantage of all of the programs you're eligible for.
Solar power systems are not a one-size-fits-all type of unit, in fact, there are hundreds of different types of solar panels and several different ways to mount them and set them up. Most complete systems will have a rating of how much electricity they can generate. This number is not exact, and relies on plenty of variables, but the systems are typically rated between 1 and 5 kilowatts for domestic systems. There's not a direct correlation between what your system is rated at and the actual amount it will produce, so talking with a solar power consultant or installer in your area will likely be your best option for estimating how much you'll actually need to cover your current energy usage.
Adding It All Up
There are a lot of factors that go into the cost of your system; however the total cost you'll pay depends on your rebates, savings vs. electricity, and even the sale of SRECs. To figure out exactly how much you'll end up paying over the life of your system,
Add the cost of the system plus installation,
Subtract any and all of the rebates and programs you are eligible for.
Subtract your yearly electricity bill (multiplied by how many years your warranty is)
Subtract the amount of revenue you'll be able to make from the sale of SRECs
Hopefully, you'll now be looking at a negative number; this is the amount of money you'll actually make by installing a solar power system. Even when you're looking at a $30,000 system, the savings on your electricity bill alone will make your solar power system pay for itself before your warranty expires, making it a financially viable option for anyone with a home in an area will some direct sunlight.