Tracking the Sun with Lawrence Berkeley National Lab

Last week’s Get Some Sun webinar featured Galen Barbose from Lawrence Berkeley National Lab discussing the results of Tracking the Sun, an assessment of the changing cost of going solar across the U.S. This is the fourth edition of this annual report, and each year we eagerly await its release to see hard data on just what kind of cost reductions the U.S. solar industry has achieved. This edition delivered in a big way . . .

Examining more than 115,000 PV systems installed between 1998 and 2010 across 42 states, the report’s key findings include:

* The cost of going solar fell significantly for consumers over the past 18 months. The average pre-incentive cost of residential and commercial solar PV systems decreased 17 percent in 2010, the most significant annual reductions since Lawrence Berkeley National Lab began tracking data. Costs declined another 11 percent in the first half of 2011.

* Market-building policies are effectively driving costs down. Reductions in the costs of installation labor, balance of systems, overhead and other non-module costs fell 18 percent from 2009 to 2010. This is significant because, unlike module costs, which are largely determined by the global market, non-module costs are most readily impacted by state and federal policies that accelerate deployment and remove market barriers.

* U.S. solar incentives are delivering an increasing return on investment. As a result of lower per watt costs, the average size of direct cash incentives from states and utilities as well as dollar-per-watt value of the federal tax incentive have both steadily decreased since their peak.

* Increased market scale would likely achieve additional near-term cost reductions. The average installed cost of small residential PV installations in 2010 was significantly lower in Germany ($4.2/W) than in the United States ($6.9/W), where cumulative grid-connected PV capacity in the two countries through 2010 totaled roughly 17,000 MW and 2,100 MW, respectively.

Galen’s presentation today took a deeper dive into the report findings: looking at costs by state, system size, technology type, market segment, and more. Pour through the data on Galen’s presentation slides here (PDF) or watch the whole webinar for yourself:

Tracking the Sun is part of a steady drumbeat of recent reports we’ve seen that all point to the same conclusion – solar is ready to power America’s new energy economy. The latest U.S. Solar Market Insight report from GTM Research and SEIA showed continued record-breaking growth in the first half of 2011. Year-over-year, the amount of new solar PV installed grew 66 percent, domestic solar manufacturing grew 31 percent, and another 1.1 GW of utility-scale solar is currently under construction. Meanwhile early results of the 2011 National Solar Jobs Census from the Solar Foundation show that solar market growth is translating into real job creation – with more than 100,000 Americans now working in solar, up 7% from last year. That’s especially sunny considering that the fossil fuel electric generation lost 2% of its jobs in the same period. Just sayin . . .

Vote Solar is a non-profit grassroots organization working to fight climate change and foster economic opportunity by bringing solar energy into the mainstream.

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