Tracking the Sun V An Historical Summary of the Installed Price of Photovoltaics in the United States from 1998 to 2011

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As the deployment of grid-connected solar photovoltaic (PV) systems has increased, so too has the desire to track the installed price of these systems over time and by location, customer type, and system characteristics. This report helps to fill this need by summarizing trends in the installed price of grid-connected PV systems in the United States from 1998 through 2011, with preliminary data for 2012. The analysis is based on project-level data for more than 150,000 individual residential, commercial, and utility-scale PV systems, totaling more than 3,000 megawatts (MW) and representing 76% of all grid-connected PV capacity installed in the United States through 2011. It is essential to note at the outset the limitations inherent in the data presented within this report. First, the installed price data are historical, focusing primarily on projects installed through the end of 2011, and therefore do not reflect the price of projects installed more recently (with the exception of the limited set of results presented for systems installed in the first half of 2012); nor are the data presented here representative of prices currently being quoted for prospective projects to be installed at a later date. For this reason and others (see Text Box 1 within the main body), the results presented in this report likely differ from current PV price benchmarks. Second, this report focuses on the up-front price paid by the PV system owner; as such, it does not capture trends associated with PV performance or other factors that affect the levelized cost of electricity for PV. Third, the underlying data collected for this report include third party owned projects where either the system is leased to the site-host or the generation output is sold to the site-host under a power purchase agreement. In some cases, installed prices reported for third party owned systems may be based on an appraised value, rather than on a purchase price paid to an installer. To the extent possible, projects for which reported prices were deemed likely to represent an appraised value were removed from the sample, whereas other third-party-owned systems were retained in the data sample (see Section 2 and Appendix A for further details). Nevertheless, some residual number of appraised-value systems may remain in the data sample, though any bias introduced by these
projects is unlikely to have skewed the installed price trends presented here. The report describes installed price trends for residential and commercial PV systems, and another set of trends for utility-scale PV. In all cases, installed prices are identified in terms of real 2011 dollars per installed watt (DC-STC), prior to receipt of any direct financial incentives or tax credits.

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