Solar power has long been known for its environmental benefits, but as the technology becomes more affordable, it's taken on mainstream use in homes, farms and businesses.
"The price of solar has gone from a very niche application to an application that's competitive on a head-to-head basis with the purchase of electricity in many ways," says Mark Nussbaum, area engineer for the USDA's Natural Resource Conservation Service in Jackson. "Folks are so used to thinking of solar power as a niche or for the environmental benefits alone; they're not aware of the rapid change (in cost)."
Aur Beck, owner of Advanced Energy Solutions in Pomona, Ill., specializes in solar hot water and electric systems in residential areas. Beck says the No. 1 benefit of solar power to homeowners is that they can lock in their electric costs at a lower rate by using "clean energy." While there is some offset cost, Beck says it pays off in about 10 years; in Missouri, it pays off in only six or seven years.