The typical cost factors for solar power include the costs of the modules, the frame to hold them, wiring, inverters, labour cost, any land that might be required, the grid connection, maintenance and the solar insolation that location will receive. Adjusting for inflation, it cost $96 per watt for a solar module in the mid-1970s. Process improvements and a very large boost in production have brought that figure down to 68 cents per watt in February 2016, according to data from Bloomberg New Energy Finance. Palo Alto California signed a wholesale purchase agreement in 2016 that secured solar power for 3.7 cents per kilowatt-hour. And in sunny Dubai large-scale solar generated electricity sold in 2016 for just 2.99 cents per kilowatt-hour – "competitive with any form of fossil-based electricity — and cheaper than most."
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If you want to purchase a rooftop solar system for your home, federal tax credits and other state, local, or utility incentives can offset some of the upfront cost. There are also several financing options available for homeowners, including energy-saving mortgages, home equity, Property Assessed Clean Energy Loans, and more traditional bank loans.
Solar electricity is inherently variable and predictable by time of day, location, and seasons. In addition solar is intermittent due to day/night cycles and unpredictable weather. How much of a special challenge solar power is in any given electric utility varies significantly. In a summer peak utility, solar is well matched to daytime cooling demands. In winter peak utilities, solar displaces other forms of generation, reducing their capacity factors.
The first three are active solar systems, which use mechanical or electrical devices that convert the sun's heat or light to another form of usable energy. Passive solar buildings are designed and oriented to collect, store, and distribute the heat energy from sunlight to maintain the comfort of the occupants without the use of moving parts or electronics.
Electricity for my off-grid cabin comes from solar and wind power stored in a bank of four 6-volt golf cart batteries wired for a 12-volt system. A charge controller and battery minder keep my system from under- or overcharging. The whole shebang cost me less than $1,000, and I have lights, fans, a television and stereo, refrigeration, and a disco ball that goes up for special occasions.
Solar thermal power stations have been successfully operating in California commercially since the late 1980s, including the largest solar power plant of any kind, the 350 MW Solar Energy Generating Systems. Nevada Solar One is another 64MW plant which has recently opened. Other parabolic trough power plants being proposed are two 50MW plants in Spain, and a 100MW plant in Israel.
Space-Based Solar Power Satellites seek to overcome the problems of storage and provide civilization-scale power that is clean, constant, and global. Japan and China have active national programs aimed at commercial scale Space-Based Solar Power (SBSP), and both nation's hope to orbit demonstrations in the 2030s. The China Academy of Space Technology (CAST) won the 2015 International SunSat Design Competition with this video of their Multi-Rotary Joint design. Proponents of SBSP claim that Space-Based Solar Power would be clean, constant, and global, and could scale to meet all planetary energy demand. A recent multi-agency industry proposal (echoing the 2008 Pentagon recommendation) won the SECDEF/SECSTATE/USAID Director D3 (Diplomacy, Development, Defense) Innovation Challenge  with the following pitch and vision video. Northrop Grumman is funding CALTECH with $17.5 million for an ultra lightweight design. Keith Henson posted a video of a "bootstrapping" approach.
Currently, flying manned electric aircraft are mostly experimental demonstrators, though many small unmanned aerial vehicles are powered by batteries. Electrically powered model aircraft have been flown since the 1970s, with one report in 1957. The first man-carrying electrically powered flights were made in 1973. Between 2015–2016, a manned, solar-powered plane, Solar Impulse 2, completed a circumnavigation of the Earth.
While the material cost is significantly higher for all-glass fiber blades than for hybrid glass/carbon fiber blades, there is a potential for tremendous savings in manufacturing costs when labor price is considered. Utilizing carbon fiber enables for simpler designs that use less raw material. The chief manufacturing process in blade fabrication is the layering of plies. By reducing the number of layers of plies, as is enabled by thinner blade design, the cost of labor may be decreased, and in some cases, equate to the cost of labor for glass fiber blades.
In 2004, the German government introduced the first large-scale feed-in tariff system, under the German Renewable Energy Act, which resulted in explosive growth of PV installations in Germany. At the outset the FIT was over 3x the retail price or 8x the industrial price. The principle behind the German system is a 20-year flat rate contract. The value of new contracts is programmed to decrease each year, in order to encourage the industry to pass on lower costs to the end users. The programme has been more successful than expected with over 1GW installed in 2006, and political pressure is mounting to decrease the tariff to lessen the future burden on consumers.
Efficiency can decrease slightly over time, one of the main reasons being dust and insect carcasses on the blades which alters the aerodynamic profile and essentially reduces the lift to drag ratio of the airfoil. Analysis of 3128 wind turbines older than 10 years in Denmark showed that half of the turbines had no decrease, while the other half saw a production decrease of 1.2% per year. Ice accretion on turbine blades has also been found to greatly reduce the efficiency of wind turbines, which is a common challenge in cold climates where in-cloud icing and freezing rain events occur. Vertical turbine designs have much lower efficiency than standard horizontal designs.
Many residential PV systems are connected to the grid wherever available, especially in developed countries with large markets. In these grid-connected PV systems, use of energy storage is optional. In certain applications such as satellites, lighthouses, or in developing countries, batteries or additional power generators are often added as back-ups. Such stand-alone power systems permit operations at night and at other times of limited sunlight.