QuoteInstallation is one of the major problems with solar energy. The electricity generated by solar panels is free, but solar systems are not: typically it takes about eight years of free electricity before a consumer breaks even. The solar industry wants to reduce the break-even point to about four years. The industry spends millions in R&D every year to come up with solar cells that can convert more of the sun's energy into electricity or reduce the cost of producing solar cells. These systems, however, mostly get installed the old-fashioned way: contractors hoist panels onto the roof and drill and screw them into place. About half of the cost of a solar system goes to the inverter (a device that converts the direct current from the solar panel into alternating current) and to installation, said John Langdon, vice president of marketing at HelioVolt.