Installing solar panels, or photovoltaic cells, is a great way to reduce harmful pollution and lower your electricity bills, if you have the money to spend upfront.
For the average family of four, living in a single family home, that means an investment of around $30,000.
Like any investment, there are returns that can be gained over time. In this case they include tax rebates in addition to future savings on utility bills.
But before you find an installer and start making plans for the money you’ll save by going solar, you may want to consider how long it will take for this investment to pay off.
Tax Incentives Are a Start
To support the use of solar and other renewable sources of power, the IRS offers an energy tax credit in 2009 for 30% of the cost of qualified alternative energy equipment. And depending on where you live, you may be able to get state income tax credits, a sales tax exemption on your purchase and a property tax exemption.
Take New York state, for example. Assuming a $32,000 initial cost, a 30% federal rebate, a maximum state rebate of $5,000 and a $12,000 rebate through the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, the overall cost is just $5,400, notes Scott Rakowski, New York State regional manager at Alteris Renewable.
To find out what kind of incentives your state offers for installing solar cells in your home, visit the Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency at DSIREUSA.org.
Recouping Upfront Costs: By the Numbers
If you think $30,000, or even $5,400, is a high price to pay, consider that the use of solar cells now costs less than 1% of what it did in the 1970s, according to the Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy division of the U.S. Department of Energy.
Still, it could take more than six years for you to recoup the cost of the average home system, according to Broadpoint.AmTech, a technology research firm.
Of course, that's just the start: If you do have that kind of cash on hand, using solar panels could actually make potential future electricity price increases less of a concern.