Tracking the Sun VI report analyses falling cost of installed PV in US

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The cost of installing PV in the USA fell during 2012 and the first half of this year, according to Tracking the Sun VI: An Historical Summary of the Installed Price of Photovoltaics in the United States from 1998 to 2012.

The latest edition of Tracking the Sun, an annual PV cost tracking report for the US, published by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratories, also found that cash incentives provided through state and utilities fell substantially over time, offsetting much of the reductions in installed price.

Median installed prices in the US were found to be US$5.30 per Watt for systems smaller than or equivalent to 10kW, US$4.90 per Watt for systems between 10kW and 100kW and US$4.60 for systems over 100kW in capacity.

The fall in installed prices up to 2012 was around US$0.90 per Watt for systems smaller than or equal to 10kW, equivalent to a 14% drop, for systems between 10 – 100 kW it was around 13% (US$0.80 per Watt) and for systems over 100kW the installed price fell by US$0.30 per Watt, around 6%.

Partial data for the first six months of this year indicated a continuation of the decline in prices, while projects funded through the California Solar Initiative declined in median installed price, by an additional US$50 per Watt to US$80 per Watt.

In total, data was collected from more than 200,000 PV installations, including residential, commercial and utility scale systems. The report claims to cover 72% of all grid-connected PV capacity installed in the USA. Data for residential and commercial systems was presented separately to data from utility-scale systems.

The median installed price of small residential PV systems in the US in 2012 was found to be much higher than in several other markets at US$5.20 per Watt. In Germany the figure was US$2.60 per Watt, US$3.10 per Watt in Italy and US$4.80 per Watt in France. Thought to be among the reasons for this are the relatively high costs of obtaining planning permission for installing residential PV systems in the USA.

The report also found that there had not been much narrowing of price distribution, with roughly 20% of systems less than or equal to 10kW in capacity costing under US$4.50 per Watt, while a further 20% of the same sized systems cost more that US$6.50 per Watt.

Overall reductions in costs were attributed for the most part to falling module prices which finished in 2012 around US$2.60 per Watt lower than in 2008, making up around 80% of the overall drop in PV prices for systems smaller than or equivalent to 10kW. The report’s authors asserted that “system prices have lagged behind changes in module prices”.

Prices for utility-scale systems were found to vary greatly between projects. In 2012, 106 projects were completed that were used in the data sample. Installed prices for those ranged from US$2.30 per Watt to US$6.80 per Watt. Utility-scale systems varied in installed price, weighted for capacity, from US$3.30 per Watt for crystalline module, fixed tilt systems to US$3.60 per Watt for crystalline systems fitted with trackers. Thin-film, fixed tilt systems cost around US$3.2 per Watt to install.

The authors of the report are keen to stress that Tracking the Sun focuses on the installed price of PV, that is, the “upfront price paid by the PV system owner, prior to the receipt of incentives” and as such does not reflect trends in PV performance and the effect of incentives on cost to the owner of a PV system.

The report also covers third-party owned systems, where systems are leased to the host of the site or where a power purchase agreement binds the site host to purchasing the electricity produced from the PV installer. There was found to be relatively little difference in cost for installing third party owned systems to customer owned systems.

Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory will host a webinar explaining the report's findings on 16 August at 11am Pacific Daylight Time.

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