National Lab Report: Solar’s Price Tag Keeps Getting Lower


As solar energy installations spring up on rooftops and major power plants across the U.S., the average cost of going solar continues to fall, according to a report released today by the research gurus at the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

You can dive into the details of the report yourself here, but the gist of it is: 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. As an aside, 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 had better make sure that policy and rules formed to support our old energy infrastructure doesn’t stand in the way of continued progress (we’re looking at you, utility attacks on net metering).

This latest edition of “Tracking the Sun” 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 average global module prices, which fell by $2.6/W from 2008 through 2012. 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. This is a particular area of focus for Vote Solar through Project Permit – check it out if you haven’t already! It’s designed to help solar stakeholders, municipal officials, and others understand how their town’s permitting practices stack up and what can be done to improve them to lower those costs.

The price declines found in Tracking the Sun add to a growing body of reports that illustrate U.S. solar industry success. Some of our favorites include:

  • 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)

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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