Berkeley Lab Benchmarks the Declining Cost of Solar Small residential systems installed at a median cost of $4.70 per watt in 2013 -- with huge variability state to state.

By Galen Barbose and Samantha Weaver

Among roughly 50,000 residential and commercial PV systems in the sample installed in 2013, the median installed price was $4.7/W for systems ≤10 kW, $4.3/W for systems 10-100 kW in size, and $3.9/W for systems >100 kW (see Figure 1). Importantly, though, those median values represent central tendencies, and considerable spread exists within the data.  As shown in Figure 2, among ≤10 kW systems installed in 2013, roughly 20% had an installed price less than $3.9/W, while a similar percentage was priced above $5.6/W.  Installed price distributions for 10-100 kW and >100 kW systems, though not shown here, also exhibit comparable variability.

A further manifestation of variability in installed prices is widely differing prices across states.  For example, among ≤10 kW systems installed in 2013, median installed prices ranged from a low of $3.3/W in Florida to a high of $5.3/W in North Carolina.  California is a relatively high-priced state, with a median price of $4.9/W for ≤10 kW systems installed in 2013, pulling installed price statistics for the entire country upward by virtue of its large fractional share of the market.

Potential underlying causes for such pricing variability are numerous.  These may include project characteristics (e.g., related to system size, technology type, or configuration) as well as attributes of individual installers.  Installed price variation also reflects differences in regional or local market and regulatory conditions, as well as differences in administrative and regulatory processes (e.g., permitting and interconnection), and in labor wages and taxes.  Regardless of its causes, however, the existence of such variability underscores the need for caution and specificity when referring to the installed price of PV, as clearly there is no single “price” that characterizes the U.S. market, or even particular market segments, as a whole.

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About the paragraphs:

The following paragraphs are excerpted from a report in the upcoming November/December issue of SOLAR TODAY. The report, by Galen Barbose and Samantha Weaver, summarizes the findings of Tracking the Sun VII, published by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.