I'm really sick and tired of hearing about how expensive solar electric power is. Over and over I hear about systems that cost $10,000, $20,000, $30,000 or more. Yes, the Yuppie Survivalist can have an outrageously expensive system and never worry about changing his lifestyle one bit. Nice if you can do it.
For the rest of us, there are other options. Lately I've been hearing the absolute minimum needed for even a rudimentary solar electric system is $10,000. Pretty discouraging for the average Joe, especially during these economic times.
Here's what I recommend if you want to have at least some power. Buy one of those cheap kits with about 60 watts of power. It could be one 60 watt panel, or maybe it's 4 - 15 watt panels. No matter, watts is watts. If you get a deal, feel free to go bigger. It should have a charge controller. Many come with DC power outlets and maybe even a couple of compact florescent light fixtures. Batteries are usually separate. A 12 volt deep cycle battery, like a trolling motor battery works fine. Two 6 volt golf cart type batteries wired in series works even better. Add a small cheap inverter, say 200 - 600 watts, and you can run some basic 120 volt items.
Get a kit and follow the easy instructions. Then you'll have power that comes from the sun. It's a hell of a lot better than nothing. Use it on a regular basis, even if just to run a couple lights. Get used to using it.
Now it's possible to gather all the parts yourself and make your own system. I'm recommending one of those kits because they are dead simple. Here's the thing, the same principles apply whether it's a 60 watt system, or a 6,000 watt system. It's not magic. Learn how the small ones work and you will understand how the big ones work.
Start small and cheap and have something useful. You don't have to wait until you understand everything there is to know about solar. Get it now. Beats sitting in the dark. Beats trying to fill generator gas cans when the ice storm that took out the power has coated all the roads in slippery death.
No, a smaller cheaper system won't let you live in Yuppie heaven. It will be power you have control over and that the utility can't turn off. Believe me, when times were tough at my house, it was good to know the lights would stay on.
Don't let the high estimates for solar discourage you. Start small. Learn. Then if you need more, build on what you know.