TODAY’S STUDY: THE REAL PRICE OF SOLAR
Photovoltaic System Price Quotes From Selected States 2014-2015
December 2015 (Solar Electric Power Association with Energy Sage and Mercatus)
The Solar Electric Power Association (SEPA) routinely speaks with utilities and developers to gather information on average national installed costs for photovoltaic (PV) solar. However, our information previously has not included state- or region-specific costs, which can be a valuable tool for utilities, consumers, regulators, and other stakeholders. Most publicly available reports are also limited to national prices. Free state-level data sources are available online, but the data points are self-reported and potentially unreliable.
This report is intended to provide a more granular level of information on solar pricing and some of the underlying market drivers. The report is based on nearly 11,000 aggregated residential, nonresidential (including commercial and industrial), and utility-scale solar prices from selected states obtained through a partnership with Mercatus and EnergySage. While recognizing the limitations of this relatively small sample of pricing information, we believe it provides a snapshot of the broader solar market.
Based on the provided data, average national residential prices ranged from $3 per watt to $4 per watt, while average national prices for nonresidential and utility-scale projects ranged from $2 per watt to $3 per watt between January 2014 and July 2015.
The dynamic nature of the market lends itself to variation due to factors such as state policies and incentives, supply and demand within local markets, competition, labor costs, permitting costs, electricity prices, and transportation. SEPA tested a range of hypotheses to tease out any correlations between residential, nonresidential, and utility-scale solar prices and labor costs, state incentives, elextricity prices, and solar market potential.
Despite our initial findings, information about potential drivers for state and regional pricing variability remains largely anecdotal. One potential source of variability is limited price transparency, in which consumers may not have a complete understanding of competitive pricing information prior to making purchasing decisions.
While the pricing data allows us to make some useful market observations, SEPA is seeking additional data to answer more questions about individual solar markets within each state. SEPA has issued a call for data and looks forward to expanding this pricing research in 2016.
Residential PV Pricing
When evaluating residential pricing, we found some interesting outliers in certain states and regions, as shown in Figure 1. For example, according to EnergySage, Florida’s inexpensive electricity and lack of solar incentives have generally kept prices quite low, with an average price of $2.51 per watt.
Washington state, on the other hand, has a solar power performance payment incentive, which is significantly higher for projects using panels manufactured in the state. The resulting average price of $4.43 per watt was the highest average price in the sample data.
According to EnergySage, New York and Massachusetts have vibrant solar markets with some limited price transparency among consumers and between vendors, factors that pushed the average price of solar to $4.03 per watt and $4.20 per watt respectively.
Nonresidential and Utility-Scale PV Pricing
Nonresidential and utility-scale PV systems had comparatively more consistency in state-by-state pricing than residential markets. This is likely related to the price transparency of the nonresidential and utility-scale solar markets and the sophistication of the commercial procurement process.
Consistent with figures from other pricing publications, average costs declined between 2014 and 2015, with lower average costs for ground-mounted than rooftop systems. Data also included costs for engineering, procurement, and construction (EPC), interconnection, and development as shown in Figure 2.