Tracking the Sun

Berkeley Lab’s annual Tracking the Sun report summarizes installed prices and other trends among grid-connected, distributed solar photovoltaic (PV) systems in the United States. The latest edition of the report focuses on systems installed through year-end 2018, with preliminary trends for the first half of 2019. The analysis is based on project-level data from approximately 1.6 million systems, representing 81% of all distributed PV systems installed in the United States through the end of 2018.

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

  • Distributed PV Systems Keep Getting Bigger, More Efficient. Median system sizes in 2018 grew to 6.4 kW for residential and roughly 50 kW for non-residential systems, though the spread in system sizes is also quite wide—especially for non-residential systems, with 20% larger than 200 kW. Increasing system sizes over time partly reflect a steady growth in module efficiencies, which rose a full percentage point to a median of 18.4% among systems installed in 2018. The report also details trends among other system design and project characteristics, including panel orientation, inverter loading ratios, solar-plus-storage, use of module-level power electronics, third-party ownership, and non-residential host customer segments.
  • Installed Prices Continued to Fall through 2018 and into 2019. The report focuses its analysis of installed prices specifically on host-owned distributed PV systems. Among these systems national median installed prices fell year-over-year by 5-7%, depending on the specific distributed PV customer segment. Those declines are broadly in-line with trends over the past five years. National median installed prices in 2018 were $3.7/W for residential, $3.0/W for small non-residential, and $2.4/W for large non-residential systems. Considerably lower prices are observed among many systems, however.
  • Installed Prices Vary Widely Across Projects. For example, among residential system installed in 2018, prices for host-owned systems ranged from $3.1/W to $4.5/W between the 20th and 80th percentile levels, and prices for small and large non-residential systems varied across similarly wide ranges. The report explores sources of that pricing variability, including differences in system size, module- and inverter-type, mounting-type, location, installer, host customer-type, and new construction vs. retrofits. This year’s report also contains a multi-variate regression analysis to isolate the effects of individual pricing drivers, including characteristics of the local PV market related to market size, competition, and installer experience, among other factors.

The report, along with an accompanying slide deck, summary data tables, and a public version of the underlying dataset are available for download below. In addition, a webinar summarizing key findings from the report can be found below.

We want to hear from you. If you have specific questions about the report or data or requests for related analytical support from LBNL staff, you can submit those comments through a separate form here, and they will be routed to the appropriate staff.