I have recently begun to investigate solar power for my primary residence. I have been interested in solar power for quite some time. While I enjoy living in the suburbs, I often long to be off the grid or at least lower my fixed monthly costs as much as possible.
The price of solar power has come down, although it is not affordable by any means. I had systems quoted for my 2000 square foot home which were between $29K and $35K. My electricity bill is under $100/month so the payback is pretty far out there. However there is currently a Federal Tax Credit on Solar Power which will bring the cost down by 30%. This credit is set to expire in 2017.
There are also Solar Renewable Energy Credits often available through your local power company. These are frequently updated. Currently in Colorado Xcel Energy is providing $0.11 per kWh in credits. Depending on the system installed, an additional $60-$75/month could be provided in credits. This is in addition to not paying for electricity. However there is a cap to this program. Similar to a Dutch auction, the first movers got the highest credit and it gets lower and lower until the credits are fully allocated. The first tier was 15 cents/kW so if you are producing 700 kW, you would get $105/month. Colorado is currently in the fourth tier which is down to 11 cents/kW so for that same 700 kW, you would only get $77/month.
There are some other costs, such as staying connected to the grid which is $7/month with 100% offset or $14/month with less than 100% offset. This allows you to buy power from Xcel in case your production is not meeting your usage.
In terms of payback, these systems will typically pay for themselves in 10 years. However given the mobility of working adults, some families may never get to payback and instead be at the mercy of the real estate market to determine what if any value was added to the home as a result of solar panel installation.
I think solar power is a great idea. With increasing acceptance in the market place and lease options available, volumes should drive the cost of solar power down. However, the SRECs and Federal Tax Incentives will go away at some point as well.