To put it bluntly, I am sick of hearing how "some day" solar electric will be affordable.
It was 2002 and I had just put up a yurt (a tent, sort of) on my land when I bit the bullet and bought photovoltaic power. It was a small system at first, around $2000, This was when the cost of solar power was over $5/watt. This was enough power for me to have a couple of lights, an answering machine, a stereo, and some outlets. My fridge was a propane model I bought from an RV supply place for $100.
This setup lasted me for a couple of years until I could afford a couple more panels, and add a couple more batteries. I grew the system when I finished building my house (using the old system and a small generator to power the tools) I needed more power to run an electric fridge, and TV.
If I had invested in solar now instead of 2002 the cost would have come down considerably, to almost $1.80 per watt. This can be even less in some areas due to utility and government incentive programs.
But here's the key point: I paid for my system as I went, and compared to what I would have paid all of these years to live on the grid and pay the utility, not only has my system paid itself off, I now enjoy almost free electricity.
To give you some details, to be connected to our local utility would have costed me $7000 over the past 14 years, just to be a customer. (Including bringing the line to my house) Add the actual use on top of that ($35/month for 14 years) and the math is inescapable. My system over time cost me approximately $9000. Now I will admit, I built my own rack, and rented a trencher to bury the cable so that cut down a bit. But even if I had paid $12,000 for the system, it still would have paid for itself already, and again, I am quoting 14-years-ago prices. To build the system that I have now would cost more in the range of $7000 with rack and all included.
Many people would love to go solar, and many more people would love a lower electric bill, but most are under the assumption that solar power is too costly. The truth of the matter is a home equity loan would pay for it's own interest in the money saved on your electric bill. At the end of your payment you could be electric-bill free.
But what about "off-grid"? This term means that you are not hooked up to the utility grid at all. I chose this option for a few reasons. Like I mentioned previously, my first solar system of $2000 paid for itself in about 1 year because just to bring in the power line would have cost $1200, plus the monthly bill.
I built my system as I had the money to invest, and I am still loan and electricity bill free.
Grid-tied means to have solar of some kind assisting your home needs, but you are also hooked up to the utility grid. The benefit to this system is that you have more power when needed or when it's been cloudy, you don't need batteries for storage, and you can sell what you don't use back to the power company. The cons are that you still have a bill, and you are not forced to conserve power.
The benefit to being off-grid is that you have no bill at all, and through the care you take with your system you learn a lot about what is going on in nature. You learn to not run the washing machine on cloudy days, you learn how to buy appliances that make sense and last a long time, and you learn to be OK being at the mercy of nature.
Unfortunately "At the mercy of nature" means loss of convienience in some ways. You can't do whatever you want, whenever you want. (Unless you have a generator, which I do just in case) Also, many people are accustomed to buying low-quality appliances that just wouldn't work with solar power. Going solar means becoming more efficient, not only with your day to day practices like turning off the (dang) lights, but also in your purchasing decisions. But with efficiency comes benefits. Appliances meant for use with solar power may cost 30% more up front, but in my experience they last at least twice as long. In fact, all of my original applicances are still in service.
More efficiency=work less=last longer
The equation that works with your fridge works with you too. What if you could be more efficient with your spending? Would you need to work as hard? What could you do with all of that freed up time? Why work to pay someone else for what you can make on your own from the sun?