Good News for Solar Prices

December 3, 2012 | 4:03 pm
Laura Wisland
Former Contributor

Getting more for your money is always good news, and a new report released by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) confirms that solar continues to be a good bang for one’s buck.

The fifth annual Tracking the Sun report evaluates the price trends of installed residential and commercial photovoltaic (PV) systems. In 2011, prices fell between 11 percent and 14 percent compared to 2010, and an additional 3 percent to 7 percent in the first half of 2012.

Graph depicts the change in median prices for three PV size ranges. Price declines range between 11% and 14% from 2010 to 2011. Graph courtesy of Tracking the Sun V, LBNL.

Declining prices largely reflect falling module prices

Global average module prices began declining rapidly in 2008, and fell by $2.10 per watt between 2008 and 2011 (based on Navigant Consulting’s Global Power Module Price Index).

“Soft” cost reductions have contributed to price declines over the long-term

Installed PV system prices have also fallen as a result of “soft” of “non-module” cost reductions, which include inverters, mounting hardware, labor, permitting and fees, overhead, taxes, and installer profit.

From 1998 to 2011, soft costs fell approximately 30 percent, which represents 36 percent of the total installed price decline for small (less than 10 kW) systems. Between 1998 and 2004, the largest factor in the overall decline in total installed prices was soft cost reductions. Within the past several years, module prices have declined much faster than soft costs, and as a result, soft costs now represent a larger relative share of total system costs.

Solar: You’ve come a long way baby; don’t stop now!

This report reminds us that investments focused on more cost-efficient ways to make and install solar systems, combined with economies of scale that come with a growing market, have really started to pay off for solar. According to Vote Solar, the industry employs 119,000 U.S. workers across all 50 states and is growing at 13.2 percent per year, which is much faster than the general economy. While the country faces uncertainty surrounding the environmental, public health, and safety issues of its coal, natural gas, and nuclear plants, solar is quietly helping to reinvent our national energy landscape.