Can solar panels save you money on your cost of electricity? If you have a sunny roof that preferably faces south-- I think the answer is yes!
I've been researching solar panels now for a good amount of time and am about to pick the installer and sign a contract...
My findings, for a smaller roof - Sunpower makes the top of the line most efficient panels and also the best warranty on the market. They also have a really nice looking all black panel.. If you have a larger roof and maybe don't care as much about aesthetics, you could alternatively maybe consider more of the cheaper panels (the ones with grey lines in them).
First steps-- understand your usage. Look at your prior bills, preferably over 12 months and figure out your average monthly usage. The energy goal with solar: produce about or slightly above what you will use. It's also good to know what your total electric cost over the last 12 months was, and the price per kWh you paid. The financial goal, spend less annually on panels/electricity...
Incentives: currently there is a federal tax credit (30% of total cost) which is currently set to expire on installations not completed by the end of
2016 2019. Massachusetts also gives you 1k.
Additional income: for every 1000kwh you generate, you earn an SREC, which you can sell on the market, currently I believe around 250-300$ each. If you get 6-12 SRECs per year, it's really going to help out your annual cost. The SRECs value is going to go down as more people enter the market and get solar panels.
Buy or not:
I'm looking to buy my panels, getting a loan at about 3%, for 70% of the total cost. My monthly payment will be higher than my current electricity bill, but my annual cost of electricity should be about half what it was, and when the loan is paid off, I should be getting most of my homes energy from the sun, resulting in no electric bills. It looks like buying offers the best longer term savings, while a lease option provides better monthly cash-flow options on the short term.
If you just want to save money each month for say the next 20 years... There are many companies that will be happy to use your sunny roof space, deal with everything (including receiving the incentives) and you won't have to do too much aside from pay less per month. It's attractive as it's less out of pocket cash flow wise, but longer term has less of a benefit.
That's the high level-- I'll give you some more details if you want to hear them. Here is a link to the company I used and it includes my referral.