8-10 years. With the tax credits for installing solar panels, and buy-back of generated electricity at preferred rates, generally an individual can reach a break-even point of their roughly $20,000 investment in about 8-10 years. Solar panels are generally rated to last at least 30 years. Madisons city council is considering a program similar to that instituted in berkeley, ca, where the initial costs are paid by the city, with repayment charged through a special tax assessment on the house, similar to how home-owners pay for new sewers and sidewalks. Done properly, the annual tax assessment matches the cost of savings on your electrical bill, so your cash flow is break-even.