Over the past decade, the story of utility-scale solar has been one of increasing efficiency and decreasing costs. But as PV module technology matures, these gains are seeing diminishing returns.
According to the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) the LCOE of utility-scale solar energy dropped 82% between 2010 and 2019. The lion’s share of the decline in install costs (62%) has been seen in PV panels and inverters. As the biggest expense, it’s no surprise these components offered the biggest opportunity for lower production costs and increased efficiency.
Meanwhile, installation costs dropped 13%; racking costs dropped 7%; and costs for other balance of system (BOS) hardware dropped 3%. Although PV module costs continue to fall, big savings gains are being replaced by incremental improvements. Going forward, cost reductions from BOS hardware such as grounding, mounting and cable management will play a larger role in increasing the performance and minimizing the cost of commercial-scale PV installations.
However, it’s not just the components themselves where savings and efficiencies can be realized. Taking a holistic approach to physical infrastructure design can mean a balance of system that’s greater than the sum of its parts. BOS components can help utility-scale solar installations take full advantage of advances in storage, improved panel and inverter designs, increased system monitoring capabilities, and other trends.
A holistic approach to BOS design is becoming easier as suppliers recognize the growing importance of physical infrastructure. More installers and EPCs are leveraging suppliers’ growing expertise in rapid prototyping to engineering custom components tailored to the needs and challenges of a specific application.
As the industry matures and major cost reductions in PV module and inverter technology give way to incremental reductions, it’s worth taking a closer look at your BOS components and how they work—or don’t work—together. The sooner improvements are implemented, the bigger their impact will be. At the industry level, they mean a lower LCOE for solar energy, attracting investment and propelling industry growth.
Amit Mehta is Business Development Manager Sr. at Panduit.
Panduit’s latest renewable energy white paper, Finding Balance: The Role of Balance of System in Delivering More Efficient and Cost-Effective PV Installations, explores the role balance of system plays in advancing solar innovation and how a holistic approach to physical infrastructure design can help deliver greater overall efficiency and cost savings to large and utility-scale PV installations. Access the white paper by completing the form below.
— Solar Builder magazine