As solar prices drop in the U.S. consumers are increasingly shopping around to find the best deal

As the U.S. solar PV market grows, so does the information available to analyze trends and developments within it, which in turn helps the industry to evolve. EnergySage today released its second Solar Marketplace Intel Report, concerned with the period between January 2015 and December 2015, allowing greater insight into the ebbs and flows of the market.

The most encouraging statistic outlined in the report is the overall drop in the average cost of solar installations across the country, from $3.86 per watt in the second half of 2014 to $3.69 per watt in the same period of 2015, representing almost a 5% reduction. Of course, these figures varied, sometimes significantly, from state to state, and to a lesser degree within individual states.

Tumbling solar prices also serve to highlight the long-term financial incentives that are associated with installing solar panels. This was made clearer as the year went on as payback periods for solar installations reduced, eventually ending on an average of 7.8 years in the second half of the year.

The consumers on EnergySage reflected a prudent approach to solar installations in 2015, as an increasing number of shoppers – a third of all EnergySage shoppers in 2015 – joined the site after already receiving a quote for a solar installation. When asked what their highest priority was when purchasing solar panels, the largest number of respondents, 44%, said that it was finding the solar equipment that offers the “best value” – only 3% of respondents said that getting the “most attractive” panels was their highest priority.

The price of the installation was clearly on the mind of the consumers, as only 4% wanted to have a site visit before getting a quote for their solar project, as owners sought out online price comparisons before committing to the installations. Interestingly, the online shoppers were much more inclined to own their own solar panels, rather than lease the systems from a third party, as was noted in EnergySage’s previous report. In fact, in 2015, less than 8% of EnergySage’s customers chose to lease their systems from a third party.

Market domination from the major players

A sign of a healthy solar market in the U.S. is the consolidation of the biggest brands, whose market share continued to grow in 2015. In fact, so pronounced was their dominance that, of 40 panel brands, the top five module manufacturing brands: SolarWorld, LG, Canadian Solar Inc, Hyundai, and Hanwha, accounted for over 60% of the quote volume.

The consolidation of the market by the inverter brands is even stronger, with the top five companies holding 90% of the total market share. In 2015, these were: SolarEdge Technologies, SMA America, Enphase Energy, Power-One, and Fronius USA LLC. This data seems to reflect global trends, as a GTM Research report, released last week, showed that the global solar inverter market is becoming more consolidated, with the ten leading companies controlling 75% of global market share.

EnergySage’s report also outlined some of the major differences in the solar markets between different states, and sometimes even within the same state. Incredibly, within certain states there are differences of $2 per watt for solar installations, which works out at a difference of $15,600 for an average 7.8KW system.

Of all of the regions that were specifically examined, Texas enjoyed the lowest costs for installations, with average quotes at $3.21 per watt, which is significantly below the national average. A state that bucked the falling prices trend was New York, which saw installation prices rise from $3.82 in the first half of 2015 to $3.93 in the second half of the year. But this was an exception, as the majority of states enjoyed cheaper prices.