Benchmarking Non-Hardware Balance of System (Soft) Costs for U.S. Photovoltaic Systems Using a Data-Driven Analysis from PV Installer Survey Results

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This report presents results from the first U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) sponsored, bottom-up data-collection and analysis of non-hardware balance-of-system costs—often referred to as “business process” or “soft” costs—for residential and commercial photovoltaic (PV) systems. Annual expenditure and labor-hour-productivity data are analyzed to benchmark 2010 soft costs related to the DOE priority areas of (1) customer acquisition; (2) permitting, inspection, and interconnection; (3) installation labor; and (4) installer labor for arranging third-party financing. Annual expenditure and labor-hour data were collected from 87 PV installers. After eliminating outliers, the survey sample consists of 75 installers, representing approximately 13% of all residential PV installations and 4% of all commercial installations added in 2010.
Including assumed permitting fees, in 2010 the average soft costs benchmarked in this analysis total $1.50/W for residential systems (ranging from $0.66/W to $1.66/W between the 20th and 80th percentiles). For commercial systems, the median 2010 benchmarked soft costs (including assumed permitting fees) are $0.99/W for systems smaller than 250 kW (ranging from $0.51/W to $1.45/W between the 20th and 80th percentiles) and $0.25/W for systems larger than 250 kW (ranging from $0.17/W to $0.78/W between the 20th and 80th percentiles). Additional soft costs not benchmarked in the present analysis (e.g., installer profit, overhead, financing, and contracting) are significant and would add to these figures. The survey results provide a benchmark for measuring—and helping to accelerate—progress over the next decade toward achieving the DOE SunShot Initiative’s soft-cost-reduction targets.
We conclude that the selected non-hardware business processes add considerable cost to U.S. PV systems, constituting 23% of residential PV system price, 17% of small commercial system price, and 5% of large commercial system price (in 2010). These processes present significant opportunities for further cost reductions and labor-productivity gains.

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