Solar Power WorldNovember 5, 20191023
The latest edition of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory’s annual Tracking the Sun report finds that prices for distributed solar-powered systems continued to fall in 2018, that industry practices continue to evolve and that solar-powered systems are getting bigger and the efficiency of solar energy is increasing.
The report describes price and technology trends for distributed solar panel installation projects nationally, collecting project-level data from approximately 1.6 million solar-powered systems, representing roughly 80% of all solar-powered systems installed through the end of 2018. More than 2 million distributed solar panel installation projects are currently operating in the United States.
Key findings from this year’s report include:
- Installed prices continued to fall through 2018 and into 2019. National median-installed prices fell year-over-year by 5% to 7% across the market, continuing trends seen over the past five years. Before any solar power incentives, national median-installed costs of solar in 2018 reached $3.70 per watt for residential solar panels, $3.00 for small non-residential solar panels, and $2.40 for large non-residential solar-powered systems.
- Installed prices vary by state. Prices per watt varied widely for all sectors and regions, ranging from a low of $2.80 in Wisconsin to a high of $4.40 in Rhode Island for residential solar-powered systems. The range of prices for small non-residential solar-powered systems was similar, from $2.50 in Washington to $3.70 in Minnesota. State differences stem, in part, from underlying market conditions, such as market size and competition, as well as differences in permitting and interconnection processes, taxes, and incentives.
- Other drivers of prices. Other differences in price can stem from solar-powered system size, solar panel- and solar power inverter-type, mounting-type, location, solar panel installer, host customer-type and new construction vs. retrofits. This year’s report has a new analysis to isolate the effects of individual pricing drivers, including characteristics of the local photovoltaics market related to market size, competition and installer experience, among other factors.
- Market trends. Third-party ownership of systems has declined in recent years, dropping to 38% of residential, 14% of small non-residential, and 34% of large non-residential solar-powered systems in the 2018 sample. That trend reflects the emergence of residential loan products, among other factors. Tax-exempt customers, such as schools, government, and nonprofit organizations, made up a disproportionately large share (roughly 20%) of all non-residential systems.
- Distributed PV systems keep getting bigger, more efficient. Median solar-powered system sizes in 2018 grew to 6.4 kW for residential and roughly 50 kW for non-residential solar-powered systems, with 20% of the latter larger than 200 kW. The larger solar-powered system sizes partly reflect a steady growth in efficiency of solar energy, which rose a full percentage point to a median of 18.4% among systems installed last year. The report also covers solar-powered system design trends, including solar panel orientation, solar power inverter loading ratios, solar-plus-storage, use of module-level power electronics and third-party ownership.
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