I finally took the plunge and decided to install solar on my house. Panels are continually improving but I figured they had advanced dramatically and future improvements would be more incremental in terms of the efficiency. As a numbers guy, the decision was primarily a financial one but not an easy one. There are so many choices and ways to pay for your energy. Here is what I found:
Lease agreements - These agreements typically have the lowest down payment, often $0 where you lease the panels and pay the solar company for the electricity. I was looking for a more permanent solution.
Outright purchase - This option gives you ownership of the panels and requires the largest initial outlay. Many people don't have the extra cash to front the whole purchase. A creative solution would be to borrow from your home equity line and then instead of making a payment to the electric company, take the outlay you have budgeted and saved from a reduced electricity bill and send it to the home equity line to pay off the purchase instead.
PPA agreement - The last option is what I selected and is similar to the outright purchase. It required a large upfront payment but the difference is that the solar company technically owns the panels and therefore they reap the benefits of depreciation which is not available to individual taxpayers. Some of the savings is passed on to the consumer. At the end of 20 years, I have the option to purchase the panels for a zero or nominal sum or have them removed. At current electricity rates my breakeven was between six and seven years which made sense financially for me.