The solar power question is not as complicated as it seems, but you have to do your homework.
Start by contacting a few local solar companies, and have them come do a "free" assessment of your home.This initial evaluation should include the following:
- Existing energy consumption of the home
- Energy-saving measures that can be implemented in the home
- Area and orientation of roof available for panel installation
- Open area that will allow free-standing panels to be installed
- Amount of power expected to be generated by the installation
- Interference with solar radiation, such as trees that may have to be removed
- Any infrastructure items that may have to be upgraded, such as the existing electrical system
- Any local restrictions on installing solar panels
- The rate you are currently paying for energy and the rate the local utility will be paying for energy returned to the grid
- Projected return on investment, before and after rebates, etc.
- Federal tax credits
- Local utility rebates available
- Other financing available
- Companies' service policies and plans
Not all houses are a good fit for solar panels. There are a lot of hurdles you need to get over before you have the panels installed.
- Some houses are just in the wrong orientation for optimum collection of solar radiation.
- Some roof lines are too broken up to give you enough area for the panels to generate sufficient electricity.
- Some areas of the country have zoning and neighborhood issues with the aesthetic of panels on your roof.
Compare the proposals from several companies, and see where they stand on all the issues above. There is always some difference in what the companies can supply, but by talking to several you can get an overview of what the system will cost, and how long it will take to see a return.
With a number of proposals, you will be able to get a good check on the feasibility of the systems you are thinking about and the process you will have to go through before you move ahead.
For more information:
Read Robert and Christine Boles's Q&A "How much will it cost to install solar panels on my 2,000-sq.-ft. home in San Francisco?"
Read Florian Speier's Q&A "We are planning a new home (still 2-3 years out). Is solar a viable (cost-effective) solution?"