While renewable energy has gained immense support and popularity, the high upfront costs associated with residential rooftop solar panels oftentimes outweigh the long-term benefits. Even with federal incentives, spending about $20,000 to install a 2kW solar panel system doesn’t sit well with many Americans, especially in the middle of a recession. Many people just simply can’t afford it.

In an effort to increase solar energy use by addressing costs, aesthetics and other challenges that may keep consumers at bay, solar energy solutions provider Applied Solar Inc. (APSO.OB) today announced it has kicked off its Solar Communities program in San Diego County.

Through a series of open house tours, Applied Solar will not only educate consumers of the importance of renewable energy, but will also offer financing for San Diego County homeowners through power purchase agreements (PPAs). Through Applied Solar’s Solar Communities program, homeowners pay only a portion of the upfront cost, such as $2,000 vs. $20,000.

“While it is true that now, more than ever, Americans are concerned about the environmental impact of their actions, they are also keenly focused on controlling their monthly household expenses,” David Field, president and CEO of Applied Solar stated in the press release. “Any proposition to switch to solar power must also entail a way to save on household costs in the near term. If we are able to bring the payback period for solar down to three or four years versus the traditional 10 years, it makes a lot more financial sense for consumers.”

Another reason consumers may be hesitant to install solar panels is their industrial look. Through the Solar Communities program, PPAs are offered for “building integrated” solar tiles, which are more pleasing to the eye. The panels come in brown, slate gray and terracotta. The tiles were developed by Applied Solar and manufactured by Suntech Power Holdings Co. Ltd. (NYSE: STP).

While residential solar is rapidly changing, Applied Solar is poised to take on the new challenges with innovative developments and a commitment to alternative energy.

“The market for rooftop solar is dramatically different than it was a few short years ago when homeowners could easily tap into their home equity to make improvements to their house,” Field stated. “New financing options are essential in order for clean power to continue to advance during the economic downturn. With Solar Communities™, our company accepts the majority of financial risk, which makes it much easier for consumers to do the right thing not only for their families, but also for the planet.”