Slowly but surely the green movement is making its way into mainstream culture, bringing with it a plethora of various eco-friendly initiatives. One such initiative that is drawing a considerable amount of attention is solar energy. As its name suggests, solar energy is just that—energy derived from the sun. Individuals and businesses alike are jumping on the solar-power bandwagon, not only to reduce their ecological footprint, but also to reduce their utility bills. While installing solar panels carries its own benefits, the fact still remains that it can be a pricey endeavor.

It is generally accepted that even though solar panels are an expensive short-term expense, the benefits in the long run far outweigh the output, usually resulting in the solar panels paying for themselves (and then some). Still, that upfront cost can be enough to deter some folks away from solar energy altogether. Luckily, there are a few ways to incorporate solar power into your home without compromising the sanctity of your bank account.
A new lease on life

Just like you would lease a car or a house, you can also lease solar power for residential use. Thanks to companies like Citizenre, the option to rent a solar setup for your home becomes available and more convenient than ever. The Citizenre REnU program, for instance, offers a number of solar packages catered to various types of residences. To sweeten the deal, they will even come to your home and install the entire system for you.

Since you are leasing the solar panels, you simply pay a set amount each month in return for the use of the setup. In most cases, the savings generated from the solar panels is enough to cut your utility bills, pay the rent on the setup, and even put a little back into your pocket. As other folks find themselves coping with a fluctuating utility bill every month, you will be enjoying a flat rate payment that can be locked in for up to ten years.
Everything is better a second time around

Since new solar panels are so expensive, most people would never even consider purchasing used panels. However, there are some great bargains to be had in used solar panels–that is, as long as they have not sustained any major damage.

Plus, with sites such as eBay and Craigslist making the connection between buyers and sellers that much easier, finding a good deal on a used solar panel setup shouldn't be too difficult. In fact, there may even be someone in your local area looking to sell their unwanted solar panels. For an even deeper savings, you could offer to pick up the solar panels yourself instead of having them shipped. Due to the fragility and size of most solar panels, shipping them might cost more than you're willing to dish out.

Remember to avoid any transactions in which the solar panels are damaged. Major damage would include cracked glass, a buildup of condensation beneath the glass, and any obviously breached connections. Unless you are a bit of a handyman when it comes to tools, then you will want to avoid purchasing any obviously-damaged panels. Aside from damaged panels, you also want to keep in mind that solar panels have been found to diminish in output over time. Additionally, older panels tend to be much larger in size, so if space is an issue, you’ll want to take that into consideration.
The government is here to help

If you haven't noticed, there has been a substantial amount of interest in alternative energy sources lately. It is for that reason that the government offers all kinds of credits, rebates, and other incentives to homeowners who opt to incorporate solar energy into their homes. In most situations there are incentives available from local, state, and even federal governments, which can mean a tremendous amount in savings.

From a local and state perspective, the incentives you are entitled to will vary depending on where you live. To find out more about which incentives are available to you, a simple Google search should yield numerous results, or you could visit the Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency, which provides information pertaining to local, state, and federal incentives based on state.

When tax time comes around, a homeowner who installs a solar system is entitled to an Investment Tax Credit of 30 percent. Therefore, if you were to invest $50,000 into a solar panel system, you can expect to receive a $15,000 tax credit ($50,000 X 30% = $15,000).

So before ruling out solar panels as an unnecessary expense, consider the ways in which you could save money. In the end, a solar panel setup will usually pay for itself. Some folks are even eliminating their utility bills altogether, boasting a solar system capable of powering the entire home solely on energy produced from the sun. In fact, depending on how much energy your setup is producing, you could even sell surplus energy back to the utility company. And, of course, the truly awesome feeling of knowing that you have drastically reduced your ecological footprint is priceless.

This is a guest post by Anthony of Eden, NC
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