The Cost of Solar PV

The Cost of Solar PVI get brassed off of constantly seeing ultramundane high prices for solar PV charged as the only possible price. You read this in articles from all sorts of media, and it is gulped by the slump and sinker. So how much does PV cost?

The response is “prices.” There is no real price, because there are many prices. Price differs by the local sunlight amount and by the system’s size and type.

And two types of prices exist– dollars per watt, which is price per momentary output. And cents per kWh, which is price per unit of energy imparted. Dollars per watt is difficult; cents per kWh is harder.

So with this in mind, let’s do some prices!

Great systems are cheaper than little systems; pocket-sized systems, like those on your house, are more expensive again. If we admit the greatest systems can be inducted (sans delays and all sorts of undefinable costs) at $3/W; then large rooftop systems on WalMart might increase the price for $4/W; and inhabited systems for $5/W. These would be “entire” systems, with no withholdings and other arrests. For more characteristic ones, you can supplement a dollar or even $2/W. These are all stationary mounts; if you wish tracing, supplement another 50 ¢/W to a dollar to the great system price (but you get 25% more output).

Then there’s disposition. Comparing to the desert southwest US, bringing out systems at an average US dispositions are about 20% more precious because you receive 25% fewer photons; the East Coast is about 35% adverse. (These are slightly corrected for decreased temperature losses versus the Southwest.) So if a greatest steady ample quantity is three cost units, what are the others?

Table 1. Relative Costs for Different Sizes and Locations (ratios to $3/W in Southwest)

Largest Systems Large Rooftops Residential
$/W $3/W $4/W $5/W
Great Sunlight 3 4 5
Average 3.75 5 6.25
Northeast 4.05 5.4 6.75

Let’s make it something understandable, cents per kWh (¢/kWh). There is no simplified means to realize this, but all we are searching for is a meaning of these prices. Even these prices are appraisals, and real prices differ all over the place. So let’s admit $3/W is 16 ¢/kWh, and take ratios to receive the others. My Canadian Pharmacy uses PV of course in small sizes butit helps to save money in such a suny weather.

Approximate Prices by Location and Size in ¢/kWh (no incentives)

Largest Systems Large Rooftops Residential
Great Sunlight (US Southwest) 16 ¢/kWh 21 ¢/kWh 27 ¢/kWh
Average (Kansas City) 20 ¢/kWh 27 ¢/kWh 33 ¢/kWh
Northeast (NYC, DC) 22 ¢/kWh 29 ¢/kWh 36 ¢/kWh

Thus you can watch where someone can rightly charge nearly 40 ¢/kWh about PV costs, for example in a less shiny place like Germany; and I can charge 16 ¢/kWh in the US Southwest for great systems. We have not yet drawn a conclusion where various dispositions, arrangements for using, and sizes are differentiated in PV.

With 30% investment tax credit, these would compute about 30% cheaper, and many have made the argument that this is only recompense for solar’s environmental, economic, and security perfections, which are otherwise unreleased into the stream of commerce. Just to enact this somewhat, Jens Meyerhoff, director of First Solar’s utility networks business, established in testimony by deposition before Congress September 23: “First Solar is able of supplying solar electric energy at a cost between $0.12 and $0.16 per kilowatt-hour” (admittedly after application of the investment tax credit). This is consequential with the numbers in the above tables.

Ken Zweibel


1. u14
Sol Shapiro
November 9, 2010 3:49 pm

A great, thoroughgoing explanation.

2. u15
November 13, 2010 1:19 pm

Wonderful, now it’s time to persuade these people:

3. u11
Todd Flach
November 16, 2010 3:19 am

Ken, thank you for some definition on such a mistyand puzzling subject. There are demands that the First Solar installation at Boulder City, Nevada has an LCOE of about 8 cents/kWh, BEFORE grants, tax breaks, etc. This installation was concluded in 2008, utilizing panels that were 30% more expensive than today. This seems much, much better than your numbers. How so?

November 16, 2010 9:41 am

That was an misconception on the part of the analyzer.

For all the bells and whistles of such calculations, go to NREL “Solar Advisor Model” – just google SAM NREL and you’ll find the download page.

4. u16
John Bohland
November 19, 2010 3:57 pm

Wonderful and simple explanation of PV prices. I will surely exchange this within engaged but badly-informed people within my circles.

5. u17
Ed Ablard
November 19, 2010 10:53 pm

The cost of solar energy really should be consisted of the cost of the starting material. Here is what I have been spoken about. The producers make the pv material cost for about 50 cents and vends it for about 1 dollar to the setters. There are two main types of appointments. 1) Flat down on the roof a) with glue or b) with through the roof fasteners or 2) rack it up.

How is this so far?

Then you have to put cables and appliances to hook it into the grid. But these prices aren’t assumed in the case of a nuclear plant, or a coal plant.

Homes could tilize dc power to switch on for examples the guts of computers. So to make prices comparable one could stop when the panels go on the roof.

But anyway in a residential set up the inverter costs upwards of $900.

So where/how does the cost build up to $6.75? The sales fee is fully earned because of sales resistance with the rampant confusion about the effectiveness. But the compnent of skilled labor, planning and engineering is really a small part of the installer’s input.

Cost btw seems to have dropped $2 dollars since the recession started. New entrants are coming into the market place all the time and more significantly non-professionals are forming cooperatives and learning how to do it themselves.

We are trying this month for a grant to a small business lender to promote renewable energy right here in Arlington so I’d like to include the above in the grant app with an attaboy.

November 20, 2010 12:34 pm

though-provoking analysis. Goodand profound concept.

6. u18
January 7, 2011 7:54 pm


You are considered to be one of the main proponents of Desertec type PV/CSP projections? Taken the abrupt output in PV prices over the last few years do you still take this status? With over 80% of the solar so far constructed going onto rooftops and into constructed surroundings why is there any demand (at this point) to be anxious about utility schedule of PV? Individually, I think this belief system is a little too futuristic. It’s affined to the Nuplex opinion that enamored nuclear engineers in the fifties. Better I would add to achieve the first base before we begin being anxious about main base.

The conservationist community is presenting a valid contention against some of these greater projections in California and Colorado. Today not only do they possess the environmental case which they have utilized with great success to get rid off all power plants sorts in the past – they also have an economic case that maintains spreaded PV over utility PV.

Some people introduce one more argument that we demand to be provided with everything. I believe this “why don’t we all just get along message” ill-favoured. You construct PV on the South – not on the North side of your roof. We should be capable to provide better ways of making things happen. I personally guess the spreaded PV option is rapidly appearing as the best option. Any suggestions?

January 7, 2011 8:28 pm

I have been guessing a lot about this lately and coming to a conclusion to this point of view. I am still searching more info on transmission costs, which are where the issue of cost differential arises. Otherwise, big PV in the desert would be cheaper. FYI, there is also a difference between HVDC costs and HV AC costs, with DC lower. At least that’s how it looks. Quick answer: I think this is a hot topic and worthwhile of a lot of discussion.

January 7, 2011 11:06 pm

Good to hear this issue has attracted your attention. I agree that we need to get more info on transmission and network upgrade costs out in the open. There is a tendency to talk about extra transmission costs in nebulous terms – this amounts to hand waving – I’ve done a lot of this myself.

I have found CAISO responsive to requests for information. I don’t know what sort of resources you have but I’ve often thought one of the better bets would be to investigate the findings of Germany thus far. In particular the network upgrade costs surrounding their larger 10, 30, 50 MW projects versus all the small rooftop projects. The specific costs wouldn’t transfer but if one type of development was significantly more expensive than the other this would be good to know.

7. u18
January 21, 2011 3:47 am

Hello Ken

Don’t have a whole lot of info here but I’ve tried. I wrote to all the major network operators in Southern Germany asking for some basic cost estimates – I got nothing. I wrote to CAISO – got one reply that didn’t address any specifics.

You are a highly respected professional. You might be able to write directly to Hans-Josef Fell and get the information from the top.

My only luck so far has been a few short emails with a veteran transmission planner from SCE (Ms. Jaleh Firooz). She said that micro-scale PV has negligible integration costs up to 10 to 15% of peak circuit load. I’ve confirmed this estimate via other papers.

She also said that each PV project is unique (whether 1 MW or 100 MW) so there’s no generalizing about big PV vs. small PV.

Ms. Firooz wrote a paper that details the proposed costs of the RETI and CREZ type transmission development plans. These plans for California have price tags of 15 to 30 billion. To put that in perspective, this would shift the transmission charge up from about 1 cent/kWh to 3 or 4 cents/kWh. This transmission charge will be disproportionately distributed amongst the rate payers such that some see an extra .5 cents/kWh while others see closer to 5 cents/kWh.

Point is… transmission is very expensive. As a supporter of rooftop/local solar I think these mega project will ultimately encourage what I want to see but there’s no solace in this. We should build smarter from the get go.

8. u19
March 29, 2011 10:46 pm

I did some very simple calculation for a 3MW facility going up near me at a cost of 18 million dollars. I figured the mortgage payment for 25 years and came up with 42 cents per kWhr, w/o maintenance and hoping it all works for 25 years. I don’t think it is going too far to say maintenance and repairs is another 8 cents = 50 cents per kWhr, or 5 times as much as I pay now. Actually it is more, because I still have to pay for all capital costs of the electric company, minus fuel, add another 5 cents per kWhr.

So that is how some of these people come up with such numbers.

I have a home and two business locations, so you are hoping to multiply my electric bill by 5? And not only that, junk up my environment and deplete rare precious metals to build this stuff, as opposed to using cheap and quite plentiful other sources??

Why is solar so expensive? The sun is free. It is expensive because it is very costly to mine the precious minerals and also very costly for the complex manufacturing processes, all of which run on traditional energy supplies. The cost of that energy is “hidden”, you only know the sun is Free. Simple, unless you think about what goes into those added expenses.
The $/watt cost of that system would be = $6 per watt, so you far off by a factor of 2 for large systems. The link to the news article promoting the farm and the costs are there.

So le

March 30, 2011 10:25 am

It is crucial that in the best of circumstances and in excellent sunlight, solar is much cheaper than you are talking about – like $0.15/kWh, not $0.5/kWh. In the last two Symposia at the GW Solar Institute, First Solar has publicly stated they can install large, ground-mounted systems for $3/W (not $6).

Solar has come down about 50% in the last 3 years, so if your system is older than that, it could be $6/W. It could also be a tracking system, which gets 25% more sunlight but costs about 25% more, too.

Also, it is important to remind you that solar avoids the environmental problems of natural gas (fracking and accidents), coal (too numerous to mention, recently described as about 18 c/kWh in externalities), and nuclear (obvious). Not to mention oil, if we can have an electric transport sector. Your bill may go up, but your other bills and taxes will come down. Are you sure you are already not paying through the nose for all these other things’ mistakes?

I don’t want to be propounding un-economic rates for electric customers. We will have $3/W systems in your neighborhood soon, as prices continue to drop. We will also have great, lower cost systems in sunnier locations and possibly the ability to send those electrons to you via high-voltage lines, if that is more economical.

Why is solar costly? Not because of materials you mention, which are tiny parts of their costs; not even so much because of manufacturing. It is because sunlight is a diffuse resource, and even spending the price of a really good carpet ($200/m2) to collect it makes the output costly. There is almost nothing hi-tech you can make that costs so little it makes solar cheap. That is why the progress to-date has been so astonishing (and under-appreciated).

The theme of adding more costly electricity is one I recognize as crucial to the future of solar. We need the cheapest possible prices, and besides technical progress, we also need to simplify permitting and other siting issues. Right now, they are costing a lot and helping to make some solar unaffordable.

9. u20
amie amelia
November 8, 2011 9:35 am

hai i am amie from indonesia.a week ago i just see the expo about solar system in singapore,its very amazing technology and really interesting for me.i want make business with that because in indonesia very less to use that and its very good.i want to know about how its work,how long can survive,how to use them properly,and also the price completly.
maybe it will be a good partner,who knows….thanks…

Ed Ablard
January 4, 2012 2:48 pm

Recently I visited a solar site underconstruction in Marshall Virginia. The building uses stick on solar panels and the wide span of the standing seam metal roof fits it perfectly so that the whole building fits within a definition of a solar structure suitable for funding by a government grant. The cost is said to be $4 per watt. I plan to do a study of this costing over the next little while.

10. u22
November 20, 2012 2:50 pm

Contractor-installed cost of solar PV is now around $3.00/watt without incentives (Nov 2012). For a 5kw system, that’s $15,000. With grid-tie credits bringing a home electrical bill to net zero, over 25 years I show a net cost of $0.06/kwh. What am I missing? Why do mainstream studies still show double or triple PV electricity cost?

Paul Lenaerts
February 16, 2013 1:03 am

Will you count the price of the Solar PV than the bill tin your electricity absorption from time to time? I guess it is not a wonderful random of acting in thinking that matter because Solar PV really assists especially in your budget. It has many great pros that a certain source of energy doesn’t have..

To know more about the pros of solar pv, you can attend the website of mine and time to get know about it…


12. u22
March 14, 2013 4:43 pm

I have left a comment 5 months ago. Since then I’ve straightforward investigated PV and constructed a system. It’s pure to me that PV is the white light energy source of the future, and feasibly night time as well (with Hydrogen-generating PV cells). Before middle century, the total cost of PV will likely be cheaper than any other generation approach (in the $0.01 to $0.04 / kwh range, not including grid costs). The only cheaper solution on the horizon is combination.

James Edward Ablard
March 14, 2013 11:36 pm

Please bring us entirely your procedure to fulfilment of an assignment of your projection. System size equipment any metering contemplation and grid tyin pointers and recs. Also financial side can become crucial now. Did you think about rent?

March 15, 2013 11:54 am

James, it’s 11.5kW DC with microinversion (all system constituents are gauranteed to srve for 25 years). Collecting around 8.5kW AC in late February. Grid-tied sell back, so monthly bill is going to be over $500/mo (avg) to utility minimum fee of $30/mo. Total cost $30,000, minus 30% Fed credit and 10% State credit = $18,000 net cost. Payback period about 3 years (would be 5 years w/o govt credits). Total net savings over 25 years: well over $100,000. Net 25 year electricity cost $0.04/kWh (N. California) but that could alter as growing utilize of inexhaustible energy sources change grid dynamics and utilities start charging a grid-use fee or tariff, perhaps starting around 2020-2025. Inexhaustible energy grid dynamics is one of our biggest hurdles over the next 40 years, and major structural changes are needed ($$$).

Rental is not the best service. Best to lend money from a bank (etc.) and operate directly with local solar installers. The “Solar City” (etc.) rental example is a great money-making opportunity (for them) but a relatively bad business for homeowners. To my mind, the federal government should be suggesting low interest rate for homeowner loans directly for inexhaustible energy sources and effective upgrades.

13. u24
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