Winds of Change.NET: Starting to Make Sense: "For a 3KW installation (about 275 sf of cells), the total cost to me would be approximately $18K."
One of the things that has never made sense to me about going solar is the amount of time and energy people put into "running the numbers." "When will it pay for itself?" is simply the wrong question. Solar panels are like any other appliance in the home, or in this case on the home. Nobody asks what the ROI on an SUV is. That is about the price of a new car, it used to be the price of a new SUV, and there are plenty of them on the road.
Since I am planning to live in suburbia, I see no great need to make sure that they "pay for themselves" anymore then making sure that the refrigerator I buy "pays for itself." I am looking at solar from a backup perspective, in this case it just doesn't matter how much it costs as long as I can afford it. Instead of a UPS for just the computer I want something that can run important sections of the house: The frig and the furnace fan on a gas furnace and a few lights are the really important items.
Actually the most important things you can do is to make your home more efficient first then worry about solar.
Lighting is easy CFL (best for general lighting) and LED bulbs (best for spot lighting) are getting cheaper all the time
Heating and cooling are big too but more challenging to replace in the short term, motors in general are big power draws, replacing them with permanent magnet models rather than using standard AC motors will make a huge difference.
Replacing TVs and computer screens with LCD screens save more power then plasmas. Just putting all your electronics on powerstrips and regularly flipping the switch makes huge differences. A microwave oven while "off" still uses large amounts of power to keep the clock running.
Going solar isn't a plug and play thing it is more systemic then that. But in the long run it is more powerful then you might imagine.
As to going to a big box store to get the our local Costco often has panels for sale and a new store in Colorado MIlls mall has them too.
Moore's Law applies to solar technology since it is a semiconductor, now people are finally noticing.