US: Installed price of PV systems continue to fall

28. November 2012 | Top News, Industry & Suppliers, Markets & Trends | By:  Shamsiah Ali-Oettinger

The latest edition of Tracking the Sun, an annual PV cost-tracking report by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) states that PV power system installed prices fell "substantially" in 2011 and through the first half of this year.

Installed prices vary though across states.

The report undertaken by Berkeley Lab, under the Department of Energy, examined more than 150,000 PV systems installed between 1998 and 2011 and preliminary data from the first half of 2012.

Residential and commercial

Some key findings for the residential and commercial PV show:

  • Among projects installed in 2011, the average installed price was US$6.1/W for systems lesser than 10kW, $5.6/W for systems between 10-100kW and $4.9 for systems more than 100kW; a year over year decline of 11% to 14%.
  • The partial data from the first six months of 2012 show that installed prices continued to fall, with the average price of projects funded through the California Solar Initiative declining by an additional $0.2/W to $0.4/W depending on system size range during the first half of 2012, amounting to a 3 to 7% fall relative to systems in 2011.

Installed prices vary though across states. Within the lesser than 10kW system range completed in 2011, the average installed prices range from $4.9/W in New Hampshire to $7.6/W in Washington DC. This is a result of differing factors like competitiveness of the installer market, labor rates and incentive levels among others.

The report also states that greater near-term price reductions in the US are possible as the average installed price of small residential PV installations in 2011 (without sales and VAT) was $3.2/W in Germany, $4.0/W in Australia, $4.5/W in Italy and $5.4/W in France. The US average is $6.0/W.

Utility-scale

The report seperates installed price data for utility-scale PV projects, which include ground-mounted projects larger than 2MW. The sample size was smaller at 80 projects, with 49 installed in 2011. It also includes relatively small projects between 2-10 MW and some projects have atypical characteristics like higher installed prices compared to larger utility-scale projects under development now. The installed price may also include component prices from one or two years prior to completion and hence the data sample may not fully capture the decline in prices as the report says.

Having these factors in mind, the key findings for utility-scale PV include the following:

  • The installed price varies significantly across projects. Among the 49 sampled in 2011, prices ranged from $2.4/W to $6.3/W. This reflects the project site variation from 2 to 35 MW, system configurations and other characteristics.
  • The prices for projects larger than 10 MW completed in 2011 were between $2.8/W and $3.5/W. Projects smaller than 10 MW ranged between $3.5/W and $5.0/W.
  • Among projects less than 10 MW in 2011, systems with thin film modules were lower priced compared to crystalline systems with and without tracking. With projects more than 10 MW, no clear differences could be observed between crystalline and thin film systems or between systems with and without tracking.

Solar quietly defying the odds

"This report shows just how far solar power has come in the U.S., and how much more we can do. Faced with a recession economy, messy election politics and an entrenched electricity marketplace, solar is quietly defying the odds and reinventing our national energy landscape. It’s really remarkable," said Adam Browning, Executive Director of the Vote Solar Initiative.  

"With solar energy more affordable than ever, more American families and businesses are going solar to meet their electricity and hot water needs," said Rhone Resch, President and CEO of the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA). "Declining costs have driven record growth over the last four years and we expect the solar market to double in 2012 and double again in 2013. This growth proves that smart federal and state energy policies diversify our energy portfolio and grow our economy.  With 5,600 companies employing 119,000 Americans, the U.S. solar industry has become an economic engine for America."

Solar Freedom Now

Another initiative spreading the solar message and advocating for a reduction in the "soft costs" for photovoltaics in various states and localities is Solar Freedom Now. Spearheaded by industry veteran Barry Cinnamon, the movement claims that Germany can be used an example as to how best reduce these costs.
 
"We have choices here in the U.S., we can either find another $2.5/W of incentives, whether they be FITs, tax credits or whatever, or we can just do what Germany did and just lop those costs off at the root and just eliminate the paperwork," Cinnamon told pv magazine. "So I look at the U.S. as arguably being the biggest potential market for solar in the next 10 years, so we need to eliminate those costs."

The December edition of pv magazine includes an interview with Barry Cinnamon outlining the initiative in more detail.


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