2012 is a good time to go solar. In the past four years, the purchase cost of solar panels has fallen by 50% and the cost of electricity has risen considerably in California.

Waiting to install solar panels on your residence or commercial space might cost more out-of-pocket since many clean-energy incentives introduced with the 2009 economic stimulus are ending, unless they are extended (which will largely depend on this November’s election outcome). In 2009 there were $44 billion in clean-energy incentives available, though currently there are only $16 billion, falling to $11 billion by 2014.

Solar panels allow a homeowner to save money on energy bills by supplementing their electricity usage with solar power and even adding credits to their electricity bill through various counties’ net-metering programs. California has 1.2 gigawatts of solar energy capacity – making up almost half of the nation’s solar energy capacity. That number is projected to increase tenfold by 2020. California’s net-metering cap has recently been increased to 4.6 gigawatts. Thus, there is still plenty of room for new solar users to participate.

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California leads the way in solar power, evidenced through net-metering programs gaining speed across the state, as a feed-in tariff program geared toward large commercial buildings was recently launched in Los Angeles.

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Make solar power feed-in tariffs work for you

Making improvements like installing solar panels – which currently cost very little out-of-pocket due to subsidies and other programs – is a good way for homeowners to spend their time while waiting for the housing market to recover. The opportunity cost of installing solar panels equals a long-term pay-off for those who jump in while there are still subsidies available.

Looking ahead, installing solar panels will continue to be a wise investment, as energy costs will only continue to rise and net metering programs grow. But don’t wait too long – the limited government subsidies for solar installations allow greater access to solar energy only as long as the money lasts.

Related article:

The solar industry is growing. Are you keeping up?

To find out if you or your client qualifies for a solar installation program, visit the California Energy Commission’s website on solar initiatives.

Re: Difference Engine: To and from the grid from The Economist