Median installed price of PV in the United States fell by 5-12% in 2015

The prices for distributed PV systems in the United States have been falling for the sixth year in a row. (Graphic: Berkeley Lab)
The prices for distributed PV systems in the United States have been falling for the sixth year in a row. (Graphic: Berkeley Lab)

Despite nearly stable prices for PV modules over the last four years, the median installed price of photovoltaics in the United States fell by 5 to 12% in 2015. This was shown by two reports of the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab).

According to two state-of-the-market reports by the Berkeley Lab, solar energy system pricing in the U.S. is at an all-time low. In 2015, prices declined by $0.20/W or 5% year-over-year from $4.3 to $4.1 for residential systems. For smaller non-residential systems, prices per Watt declined by 7% or $0.30 from $3.8 to $3.5 and for larger non-residential systems prices declined by 9% or $0.30 from $2.8 to $2.5 per Watt. Utility-scale PV systems that were connected to the grid in 2015 had a 12% lower price ($0.30/W less) than systems in 2014. Preliminary data suggests that prices in most states and within most market segments have fallen in the first half of 2016 as well.

Prices continue falling

“This marked the sixth consecutive year of significant price reductions for distributed PV systems in the U.S.,” notes Galen Barbose of Berkeley Lab’s Electricity Markets and Policy Group, the lead author of the first report “Tracking the Sun”.

Instead of the prices of PV modules (which have been relatively stable since 2012), the study attributes recent system price declines to reductions in other hardware costs and to solar “soft” costs. So-called “soft” costs include for example marketing and customer acquisition, system design, installation labor, permitting and inspections. You can download the full report “Tracking the Sun IX” here.

High variability of system prices

The second Berkeley Lab study “Utility-Scale Solar 2015” focuses on the utility-scale market, describing installed prices, as well as trends related to the design, operating costs, capacity factors, and power purchase agreement (PPA) prices of utility-scale solar projects.

Both reports also highlight the immense range of PV system prices. While 20% of the residential systems installed in 2015 sold for less than $3.30/W, another 20% were priced at more than $5.00/W. “This variability reflects a host of factors: differences in system design and component selection, market and regulatory conditions, and installer characteristics, to name a few,” says Berkeley Lab’s Naïm Darghouth.

When it comes to utility-scale projects, there is another factor, which greatly influences the price of the system: time. “Some of the observed price differences between projects can be explained by varying lag times between contract negotiation and project completion, as some of these projects have been under development, or even construction, for several years,” explains Joachim Seel of Berkeley Lab. The cheapest 20% of the utility-scale projects connected in 2015 were priced below $1.60/W, compared to the most expensive 20% priced above $2.60/W.

Increasing project performance

Over the last few years, PV project performance (capacity factor) has improved. This was due to several factors, including the use of tracking technology, aiming for higher inverter loading ratios (ILR) or installing the PV system at sites with a higher global horizontal irradiance (GHI).

Due to this, the mean capacity factors increased from 21% in 2010/2011 to 26.7% for 2014 projects (whose first full operating year was in 2015).

Further expansion of U.S. solar market

Lower project costs and higher capacity factors also influenced the prices of power purchase agreements from utility-scale projects. On average, those prices declined by $20-$30/MWh between 2006 and 2013 and by approximately $10/MWh per year between 2014 and 2015.

Berkeley Lab researchers expect a continued expansion of solar power in all sectors of the U.S. solar market over the next few years, especially with regard to the extension of the 30% federal investment tax credit (ITC) through 2019.

Highlights of both reports will be presented through two separate webinars. More information can be found at and The research was supported by funding from the U.S. Department of Energy SunShot Initiative.

Berkeley Lab / Tanja Peschel

Similar Entries

No access of U.S.-based polysilicon to the booming Chinese market. (photo: dpa picture alliance)

The ongoing trade dispute between China and the United States continues to affect the manufacture of polysilicon used for photovoltaic modules in both countries, but not equally, according to a new report of IHS Inc. on the global PV market.

IEA PVPS published its new Snapshot report on Wednesday, 6 April 2016. This serves as a preliminary assessment prior to the PVPS Trends Report that will be published in September 2016. This report provides estimated data about photovoltaic (PV) capacity in the countries reporting to the IEA PVPS Programme and additional key markets. At least 227 GW of PV are now installed worldwide, while in 2015, 50 GW of PV were installed globally.

Gurit (SIX Swiss Exchange: GUR) today reports double-digit sales growth for the second consecutive year. The strong wind energy demand, customer wins and the full deployment of the Company`s comprehensive core materials offering were the main contributors to the increase of net sales to CHF 359.4 million for 2015. Based on the positive sales development and the materialization of the initiated improvement programs, operating profit rose to CHF 33.0 million (9.2% of net sales) and net profit amounted to CHF 22.6 million for the full year 2015.

Global growth is exoected for the PV market. (Photo: dpa)

After 40 GWDC of grid connected PV installations in 2014, 2015 saw a significant growth with a market reaching at least 51 GW, according to data compiled by the PV Market Alliance (PVMA). Strong growth was observed in all major markets while more emerging market started to contribute to the global growth.