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Photovoltaic (PV) Pricing Trends: Historical, Recent, and Near-Term Projections


The installed capacity of global and U.S. photovoltaic (PV) systems has soared in recent years, driven by declining PV prices and government incentives. The U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) SunShot Initiative aims to make PV cost competitive without incentives by reducing the cost of PV-generated electricity by about 75% between 2010 and 2020.
This summary report—based on research at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL)—examines progress in PV price reductions to help DOE and other PV stakeholders manage the transition to a market-driven PV industry, and to provide clarity surrounding the wide variety of potentially conflicting data available about PV system prices. It provides a high-level overview of historical, recent, and projected near-term PV pricing trends in the United States, focusing on the installed price of PV systems. More detailed analyses will be published in other reports. The following are the report’s major findings:
• Reported price data for more than 150,000 installed PV systems (Section 2) show that, among systems installed in 2011, the median reported price was $6.13/W for residential and small commercial systems 10 kW capacity or less, and $4.87/W for commercial systems larger than 100 kW (Figure 1).1 The capacity-weighted average reported for installed price of utility-scale PV systems completed in 2011 was $3.42/W. These data are a lagging indicator relative to the price of systems being installed or quoted today.
• The reported prices for systems installed in 2011 correspond closely to the results of bottom-up modeling of the overnight capital cost of PV systems quoted in the fourth quarter of 2010 (Q4 2010), which estimate an installed price of $5.90/W for 4.9-kW residential systems, $4.74/W for 217-kW commercial rooftop systems, and $3.93/W for 187.5-MW fixed-tilt utility-scale systems.2 Owing to installation time requirements, Q4 2010 price benchmarks are the most appropriate comparison for 2011 reported price data.
• Reported installed prices of U.S. residential and commercial PV systems declined 5%–7% per year, on average, from 1998–2011, and by 11%–14% from 2010–2011, depending on system size. Preliminary data and bottom-up analysis suggest that the price reductions have continued in 2012. Specifically, bottom-up analysis for systems quoted in Q4 2011 (and installed in 2012) yields installed prices of $4.39/W for 5.1-kW residential systems, $3.43/W for 221-kW commercial rooftop systems, and $2.79/W for 191.5-MW fixed-tilt utility-scale systems, corresponding to a 25%–29% year-over-year reduction compared to Q4 2010 benchmarks.
• These figures are in line with analyst downward-trajectory projections for expected market pricing of PV systems and components in 2012, which also anticipate continuing reductions in component and system pricing beyond 2012. Analysts estimate that the global module average selling price will decline from $1.37/W in 2011 to approximately $0.74/W by 2013 and that inverter prices will also decline over this period. Analyst projections do not exist for balance of system (BOS) costs; however, the fact that PV system prices are substantially lower in Germany than in the United States, despite having similar module and inverter prices, suggests that substantial BOS cost reductions are possible for U.S. systems as well.


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