While the US has played a major role in the initial development of solar energy, it has fallen far behind many other countries. For example, Germany has far more solar systems installed per capita and most solar equipment is now produced outside the US, increasingly in China. The tax credit will expire in 2016, making it likely that prices for installation will rise next year, if not sooner. Prices also rose before a 3 year solar tax credit was scheduled to expire. The currently tax credit, of much longer duration than most tax credits, was a bargaining chip that allowed the stimulus package to be approved. Will it be extended?
Solar incentives at the local level have been falling in many states. In others, such as DC, they are unpredictable from year to year. Such circumstances have caused some installers to let experienced employees go. Mostly as a means of boosting sales, many solar installers now offer systems leased or financed in a way that requires no money down. Because people are not accustomed to paying for energy in advance, this makes going solar easier to budget. Installers that offer financing are reaping most of the financial benefits of going solar. (Of course, the altruistic benefits of taking care of one’s planet remain.) The feasibility of leasing for a cost less than what a typical utility charges for power depends largely on the tax credit and accelerated depreciation. Will leasing continue after the tax credit ends? Perhaps only if energy prices go up.
Spain also embraced solar, but has since discovered that energy was an important part of its economy and has been requiring those with solar systems to pay unexpected fees. Given the US governmental obsession with expanding the economy, self-sufficiency of citizens would probably be abhorrent. Florida recently made it illegal to go off the grid. Will other states follow suit? Going off the grid is sometimes the only way to avoid a smart meter in one’s home. Such is the case in DC at this time.
Meanwhile, the energy industry in the US is becoming ever more dominated by a few large companies. Exelon, a generator that relies heavily on nuclear energy, is in the process of purchasing Pepco, a utility that operates in DC, MD, VA, and DE. Exelon has a reputation for hampering the use of solar and wind in the areas it serves.
What is the bottom line? I suggest that if you are considering going solar, do it now. I also suggest that you hire a company that uses metal racking, not pressure treated lumber. Otherwise, your support system will fail long before the panels have reached the end of their useful life (unless they are inferior panels — pay attention to the length of the guarantee).
If you need a new roof any time soon, consider roof-integrated solar to avoid penetrations and to get a tax credit for your roof.. I also suggest that you pay attention to the electrical noise that is generated by the solar inverter, keeping the inverter away from areas where people sleep or spend a lot of time, putting wiring, twisted, into metal conduit, filtering noise out of the current, and shielding if necessary. You can tell a lot about the strength of electrical noise with a $15 pocket radio from Radio Shack, tuned between stations, antenna extended, volume high.