Berkeley Lab reveals drivers for low-priced PV systems in US

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The price of solar PV systems installed on homes and small businesses spans varies greatly. In a new report, researchers from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) identify the key market and system drivers for low-priced PV systems for homes and small businesses.

“Despite impressive recent cost reductions, installed prices for small-scale PV systems in the United States continue to show wide pricing differences depending on the location of the installation, the installer, the components of the system, and other factors,” said Berkeley Lab’s Ryan Wiser, a co-author of the report, Characteristics of Low-Priced Solar Photovoltaic Systems in the United States.

“Our work seeks to pinpoint the characteristics of recently-installed PV systems at the lower end of the observed solar price range,” Wiser added.

According to Greg Nemet of the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the lead author of the report, low-priced PV systems — those cheaper than 90% of other systems nationally — are more prevalent in local markets with fewer active installers, and are more likely to be installed by companies that have more county-level experience installing PV systems.

“Not surprisingly, low-priced PV systems are also associated with a variety of system characteristics," Nemet said. "For example, such systems are more likely to be customer owned vs. leased, be larger in size, and use lower-efficiency modules; and are less likely to use tracking, building-integrated PV modules, micro-inverters and batteries.”

Source: Berkeley Lab

The report also found significant variations across states. PV systems are more likely to be low-priced in Maine (51 times more likely than California, the “reference” state in the statistical analysis), Arizona (23 times more likely), New Hampshire (10 times), New Mexico (4 times), and New Jersey (3 times). Research also found that policy incentives can affect the prevalence of low-priced systems.

“Widespread adoption of PV will depend, in part, on the economics of those systems,” said Wiser. “By studying the attributes of low-priced PV systems, we can begin to identify what can be done to facilitate those conditions and thereby drive down PV system prices nationwide.”

Berkeley Lab and researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Yale University, the University of Texas-Austin and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory collaborated on the study. The work is based on Berkeley Lab’s Tracking the Sun report series, which monitors trends in the installed price of PV systems in the United States.

The study focuses on systems ranging in size from 1 kW to 15 kW and used a variety of statistical methods to analyze a dataset of more than 40,000 PV systems in 15 U.S. states.

A webinar presentation of key findings from the report will be held on Jan. 25, at 10 am Pacific Time (1:00 pm Eastern Time).