Report: Cause of low solar PV systems prices hard to pin down

The price of solar photovoltaic (PV) systems installed on homes and small businesses spans a wide range, and varies depending on a number of factors, researchers from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) have found.

“Despite impressive recent cost reductions, installed prices for small-scale PV systems in the United States continue to show wide pricing differences depending on the location of the installation, the installer, the components of the system, and other factors,” said LBNL’s Ryan Wiser, a co-author of the study. “Our work seeks to pinpoint the characteristics of recently-installed PV systems at the lower end of the observed solar price range.”

The research found that low-priced PV systems (those cheaper than 90 percent of other systems nationally) are more prevalent in local markets with fewer active installers and are more likely to be installed by companies that have more county-level experience installing PV systems.

“Not surprisingly, low-priced PV systems are also associated with a variety of system characteristics,” said Greg Nemet of the University of Wisconsin-Madison and lead author of the report. “For example, such systems are more likely to be customer owned versus leased, be larger in size, and use lower-efficiency modules, and are less likely to use tracking, building-integrated PV modules, micro-inverters, and batteries.”

The report also finds significant variations across states. After accounting for other differences among markets, PV systems are more likely to be low-priced in Maine (51 times more likely than California, the “reference” state in the statistical analysis), Arizona (23 times more likely), New Hampshire (10 times more likely), New Mexico (4 times more likely), and New Jersey (3 times more likely).

Finally, the research finds that policy incentives can affect the prevalence of low-priced systems, though those influences are nuanced and require additional analysis to fully verify.

“Widespread adoption of PV will depend, in part, on the economics of those systems,” Wiser explained. “By studying the attributes of low-priced PV systems, we can begin to identify what can be done to facilitate those conditions and thereby drive down PV system prices nationwide.”

For more:
– see the report