Highlights from Two New Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) Reports on U.S. Solar Power

Earlier today, David Roberts of Vox posted on two new reports by Lawrence Berkelely National Laboratory (LBNL): 1) Utility-Scale Solar 2015: An Empirical Analysis of Project Cost, Performance and Pricing Trends in the United States and 2) Tracking the Sun IX: The Installed Price of Residential and Non-Residential Photovoltaic Systems in the United States. As Roberts notes, solar power is “growing growing growing” as prices fall “more or less on schedule” vis-a-vis the SunShot Initiative’s ambitious goal of $1 per watt installed cost by 2020.

See below for key points, as well as several interesting graphics, from the two reports. First, here are highlights from the utility-scale presentation.

  • “Utility-scale solar had a 57% capacity share of 2015 installations and a 54% share of cumulative installations at the end of 2015.”
  • “Increasingly, utility-scale solar expansion into non-RPS states (Southeast) or continued deployment where RPS goals have been reached (e.g., Texas).”
  • Utility-scale PV continues to expand beyond California and the Southwest” into states like Georgia and North Carolina.
  • Median installed price of PV has fallen steadily, by nearly 60%, to around $2.7/WAC ($2.1/WDC) in 2015.”
  • 25.7% average sample-wide PV net capacity factor, but with large project-level range (from 15.1%-35.7%).”
  • “Combination of falling installed prices and better project performance enables lower PPA prices…On average, levelized PPA prices have fallen by nearly 75% since 2009.”
  • “Though once competitive, CSP PPA prices have failed to keep pace with PV’s price decline.”
  • “Looking ahead: long-term ITC extension should support continued growth in the utility-scale solar pipeline.”

Now, here are highlights from the residential and non-residential PV systems presentation.

  • “Installed Prices Continued to Fall in 2015, but at a Somewhat Slower Pace Than in Recent Years.
  • “National median installed prices in 2015 declined YoY by $0.2/W (5%) for residential systems, by $0.3/W (7%) for non-residential systems ≤500 kW, and by $0.3/W (9%) for non-residential systems >500 kW.”
  • Steep reductions in module prices were the primary driver for installed price reductions from 2008 to 2012 (~80% of the total installed price decline). Since 2012, however, module prices have remained relatively flat, and installed price declines have been driven primarily by reductions in non-module costs (including installer margins).”
  • “Non-module cost have fallen by $1.9/W since 2010, roughly $0.4/W per year on average, with a $0.2/W drop from 2014 to 2015.”
  • “Lower installed prices in other major national PV markets and within some U.S. states, as well as the high degree of variability in U.S. system pricing, suggests that deeper reductions in soft costs are possible in the near term.”
  • “For residential systems installed in 2015, median prices were roughly 16% lower for 8-10 kW systems than for 2-4 kW systems.   Among non-res. systems installed in 2015, median installed prices were 43% lower for the largest (>1,000 kW) than for the smallest (≤10 kW) non-res. systems. Even greater economies of scale arise when progressing to utility-scale system…”
  • “Achieving dramatic reductions in soft cost may accompany market scale, but also likely requires some combination of incentive policy designs that provide a stable and straightforward value proposition, targeted policies aimed at specific soft costs, and basic and applied research and development.”

Finally, here are some graphics from the reports, illustrating the decline in prices for utility-scale and non-utility-scale solar power in the U.S., increased median module efficiency, capacity factors by region and “fixed-tilt” vs. “tracking” mounts, and the distribution of solar CSP projects relative to “Direct Normal Irradiance” levels.