Solar Costs Continue to Fall as Installations Increase

As solar energy installations spring up on rooftops and major power plants across the United States, the average cost of going solar continues to fall, according to a report released today by the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Solar industry advocates applauded the report’s results and reflected on the policies that have allowed to industry to continually lower costs while increasingly deployment.

Stock - panel, hand“Because of smart policies, including the Investment Tax Credit (ITC) and net energy metering, solar is one of the fastest-growing industries in the United States – providing good paying jobs for nearly 120,000 Americans at more than 5,600 companies, many of them small businesses spread all across the country,” said Rhone Resch, president and CEO of the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA). “Solar job growth has doubled in the past three years alone.  Today, there is now more than 8,500 MW of cumulative solar electric capacity in the United States – enough to power more than 1.3 million American homes. And the more affordable solar becomes, the more American families and businesses can take advantage of this clean, inexhaustible energy source to meet their electricity and hot water needs.”

“Effective energy policy and hefty dose of American entrepreneurship have achieved something remarkable: built scale and lowered costs to make rooftop solar a real and growing part of our nation’s energy landscape. We’ve seen especially strong adoption in low- and middle-income communities in the largest markets, which is an exciting sign that solar has truly become a mainstream option. Now that we have built this new solar economy, we must make sure that policy and rules formed to support our old energy infrastructure doesn’t stand in the way of continued progress,” said Adam Browning, executive director of the Vote Solar Initiative (Vote Solar).

The latest edition of Lawrence Berkeley National Lab’s “Tracking the Sun,” an annual report on solar photovoltaic (PV) prices in the U.S., examined more than 208,000 PV systems installed between 1998 and 2012, as well as preliminary data from the first half of 2013. Key findings include:

•    The average installed price of residential and commercial PV systems completed in 2012 decreased by a range of roughly $0.30/W to $0.90/W, or 6-14%, from the prior year, depending on the size of the system. Installed prices for projects funded through the California Solar Initiative fell an additional 10 to 15% in the first half of 2013.
•    Historically, installed PV prices have declined an average of 5 to 7% per year from nearly $12/W in 1998, with particularly sharp reductions occurring since 2009.
•    The recent price decline in large part is attributable to falling module prices, which fell by $2.6/W from 2008 through 2012. Over the longer-term, installed system prices have also fallen due to reductions in non-module costs, including inverters, mounting hardware, permitting and fees, and other costs.
•    Over the longer-term, installed system prices have also declined due to reductions in non-module costs, including inverters, mounting hardware, permitting and fees, and other costs.
•    Market-building policies that target non-module or “soft” costs represent a significant opportunity for continued price reduction.

The price declines found in Tracking the Sun coincide with a number of recent reports that illustrate U.S. solar industry success.

•    Rapid Market Growth: PV installations totaled 723 megawatts (MW) in Q1 2013, which accounted for over 48% of all new electric capacity installed in the U.S. last quarter. Overall, these installations represented the best first quarter of any given year for the solar industry.
•    Strong Job Growth: Solar employs nearly 120,000 Americans across all 50 states. Solar job growth has far outpaced the general economy with 13.2% annual growth over 2011. (Source: The National Solar Jobs Census from the Solar Foundation)
•    Overwhelming Bipartisan Support: 92% of Americans agree that it’s important to use and develop more solar. (Source: SEIA National Solar Survey)

The full report, Tracking the Sun VI: An Historical Summary of the Installed Price of Photovoltaics in the United States from 1998 to 2012, can be downloaded from: http://emp.lbl.gov/sites/all/files/lbnl-6350e.pdf

— Solar Builder magazine

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