Expense

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Expense

Workers install SunTiles onto homes in San Ramon, Calif.

Robert Nickelsberg/Getty Images

In 1956, solar panels ran about $300 per watt [source: Southface]. A 7.5-kW system would have been out of the question for all but the shockingly rich.

Today, prices are down considerably. In most areas, solar arrays run about $7 to $10 per watt. You'll be paying closer to $7 if you install it yourself, and closer to $10 if you have a professional do it. For a 7.5-kW array, or 7,500 watts, you could pay anywhere from $50,000 to $75,000 dollars.

If you need less electricity, of course, the number gets lower. If you only consume 600 kWh in a month, or 20kWh/day, you could supply all the energy you need with a 5-kW system. That would cost closer to $40,000.

Thousands of dollars in tax credits do bring the cost down considerably -- in New Jersey, for instance, homeowners buying a $50,000 system will get $12,500 back from the state on top of the $11,000 federal rebate. So in New Jersey, that system would end up costing $26,500.

Of course, it's not an all-or-nothing arrangement. You can always partially power your house using solar. If you want to invest in a $10,000 solar array, you can supplement grid energy with a 1.5-kW solar system.

Still, tens of thousands of dollars for a solar array is still pretty cost-prohibitive -- especially since it can take decades to make that money back in energy savings [source: WeatherImagery].

Along those lines, a recent development in the solar-power industry puts solar panels within reach of those who don't have thousands of dollars to spend on clean energy. There are companies now across the country that rent out solar panels. There's no upfront charge. Homeowners pay a monthly rental fee to use the panels, and the rental company owns and maintains them. This could remove the huge cost consideration from the equation.

For more information on solar and related topics, look over the links on the next page.

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