Buying PV Without Getting Ripped Off

PV pricesThe second, and much improved, version of California’s experience with PV prices, Tracking the Sun II, has been released.

It is a huge step forward from the previous report, which seemed to treat CA as an island and ignored the much greater experience of the non-CA-dreaming world outside. This year there are special sections comparing CA with Europe. We are blessed!

However, the report is still out of date, since it ends in 2008 (with an unrevealing peek at 2009). As we know, prices for silicon modules have dropped like a stone, and very large quantities can be bought under $1.5/W.

Now what we can do from the CA report is actually estimate what we should be paying going forward without getting ripped off. The reason this is important is that most people will read the CA report without the knowledge of the staggering plunge in module prices and think we are still stuck at $8/W for residential systems (and similarly high prices for the commercial and big ground-mounted systems).

So let’s see what combining lower module prices with CA BOS prices gets us.

First here is the status quo in CA and Europe for residential systems:

The Californians are apparently still paying a buck a watt too much in comparison with their more experienced brethren, but the gap is getting less. Now here is the way prices break down between modules and the rest, or balance of systems (BOS) in CA:

What it says is that of the $8/W Californians are spending on small systems, $4.6 was the module! So if this were $1.6 instead, the residential systems should go in for $5/W! Wow!

In the case of commercial-scale systems (last two bars, above), this would be a similar drop to $5/W. My guess is BOS would be less for bigger commercial systems, except to jack the modules up to the higher roofs.

This is as much as anyone should pay for these systems in 2009:

2008 2009
Residential $8.1 $5
Commercial $7.7 $4.7

What about large systems on the ground?

The report isn’t very good with large systems. It’s like they came as a surprise to the writers. It lists a few, but doesn’t mention the anomaly in the following table:

This is a test – who do you think put in the biggest and cheapest one, which is about half the price of the others? First Solar, of course. But now everyone prices modules like First Solar, so everyone should be able to put in systems at the same price, the $3.2/W in the table.

Of course, as we’ve said, these are ceilings. BOS costs are also dropping, as are overheads and profits. As previously stated, we are hearing best prices of $2.5/W for nontracking systems and $3/W with trackers. Don’t be ripped off when you buy PV this year.

Here’s a bonus curve from the report, just because it is interesting. No one is saying these folks don’t get their numbers right. They just don’t say enough about what they mean.

Ken Zweibel