Berkeley Lab’s “Tracking the Sun” describes the latest distributed PV pricing trends

September 19, 2018

We are pleased to announce the release of the latest edition of Berkeley Lab’s annual Tracking the Sun report. The report describes installed prices and other trends among distributed photovoltaic (PV) systems in the United States, based on an underlying dataset of more than 1.3 million PV systems (with transaction prices for 770,000 systems). This latest edition focuses primarily on trends through year-end 2017, with preliminary data for the first half of 2018.

The report, along with an accompanying slide deck and a public version of the underlying dataset, can be downloaded via trackingthesun.lbl.gov. A webinar summarizing key findings from the report will be held on October 4th at 1:00 pm Eastern: register here.

Key findings from this year’s report include the following:

  • Installed Prices Continued to Fall through 2017 and into 2018. National median installed prices in 2017 were $3.7 per watt (W) for residential systems (a $0.2/W or 6% decline from the prior year), $3.1/W for small non-residential systems (a $0.4/W or 11% decline), and $2.2/W (a $0.1/W or 5% decline) for large non-residential systems. Data for the first half of 2018 show an additional drop of $0.1/W for residential and small non-residential systems, and effectively no change for large non-residential systems. These recent trends are generally consistent with the pace of price declines since 2014, and mark a slowing from the years immediately preceding (2009-2013) when prices fell by roughly $1/W per year.

  • Installed Prices Vary Widely Across Individual Projects. Among residential systems installed in 2017, 20% were priced below $3.0/W (the 20th percentile value) while another 20% were above the 80th percentile at $4.5/W. Non-residential systems also exhibit wide spreads, albeit shifted downward, from $2.4/W to $4.1/W for small non-residential and from $1.8/W to $2.8/W for large non-residential projects. These pricing spreads have persisted over time and are both reflective of the heterogeneity in PV systems and markets, as well as suggestive of the potential for further price declines.
  • Pronounced Pricing Disparities Exist Across States. State-level median installed prices in 2017 ranged from $2.6/W to $4.5/W for residential systems, from $2.2/W to $4.0/W for small non-residential systems, and from $2.1/W to $2.4/W for large non-residential systems. Three of the largest state markets (California, Massachusetts, and New York) are relatively high-priced, pulling overall U.S. median prices upward. These cross-state pricing differences reflect both idiosyncratic features of particular states as well as more-fundamental differences related to market and policy conditions.

  • Installed Pricing Variation Also Reflects Differences in System Design, Installer, and Customer Characteristics (among other factors). Significant pricing differences were also observed across system sizes within each customer segment (with median prices ranging from $3.2/W to $4.5/W across residential systems of varying size, and from $2.1/W to $3.7/W across non-residential systems), between third-party owned (TPO) and host-owned residential systems ($3.3/W vs. $3.8/W), across residential installers ($2.1/W to $9.6/W for host-owned systems and $1.1/W to $5.1/W for TPO systems), between residential new construction and retrofit systems in California ($2.3/W vs. $3.9/W), between large non-residential systems at commercial sites and tax-exempt customer sites ($2.1/W vs. $2.6/W), and between systems with standard vs. premium efficiency modules ($3.6/W vs. $4.2/W among residential systems).

For questions on the report, feel free to contact Galen Barbose at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (510-495-2593, GLBarbose@lbl.gov) or Naïm Darghouth (510-486-4570, NDarghouth@lbl.gov).

We appreciate the funding support of the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Energy Technologies Office in making this work possible.

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