Very few countries have been able to limit their reliance on fossil fuels significantly. France's electricity is largely produced in nuclear power plants, whilst Norway's is nearly entirely from hydroelectric means. However, the US and much of the rest of Europe is largely dependent on fossil fuels. This resource is running out at an alarming rate; we have mere decades of financially viable fossil fuel left. In some ways, this is a good thing. The damage our use of coal, oil and natural gas is doing to the planet is unsustainable. However, the other side of the coin is that it is now essential that we utilize other (renewable and sustainable) types of energy.
The government is pushing this policy by awarding grant money to companies that research into alternate fuel sources to power our homes, businesses and vehicles, and many countries have agreed to targets, which aim to increase their use of renewable energies vastly, such as hydroelectric and solar. One of the more interesting projects utilized by some governments is that of encouraging individuals and businesses to generate some or all of their own electricity through the use of solar panel systems for homes or similar.
This encouragement is often financial. By installing solar panels on one's home, electricity is generated and can be utilized within the property. However, when the generation of electricity is greater than is needed within the property, the excess can be put into the main electricity grid. In most European countries, and increasingly in the US (although policies differ from state to state), the local authorities allow the homeowner to earn money for each KW/hour of energy they generate and send into the main electricity grid. This either works by having a specialized electricity meter fitted, which reduces its balance for each KW/hour send back into the grid, or a separate meter that separately records each KW/hour of generated electricity.
In areas where such a policy is in place, solar panel systems for homes can produce significant savings for the homeowner. There is an initial cost in purchasing and installing the panels, but in many cases the savings they can generate, and the significantly reduced environmental impact incurred, far outweighs the initial outlay. Even in areas where no current policy exists, savings on the cost of electricity often means there is a return on investment within two to three years.
The amount of electricity generated, and hence the amount of savings that can be made, will vary dependent on the climate in the area in which you live. It is also dependent on the chemical construction of the panels you buy (they are often made from silicon, but various other materials can be used, each generating different amounts of electricity, which leads to varying price implications) and the surface area of the panels you install, which will largely be dependent on the size of the property's roof.
In short, solar panel systems for homes are one of a number of ways that even an individual can contribute to reducing our escalating impact on the environment. Whilst reducing the damage our society causes will mean a significant proportion of people will need to contribute to achieve real success, increasing government regulation and financial incentives to both individuals and businesses mean that an ever increasing number of people each year are choosing to 'go green'.