If you’re considering buying into a community solar project/facility in the future, then you may want to hurry up and do so, based on a recent report from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and the Lawrence Berkley National Laboratory.
According to the report, the downward slope of residential/community-scale solar systems will continue through 2016, before then stabilizing (after perhaps rising a bit), so those interested would probably be advised to get going.
The report notes that throughout the 15 years preceding 2012, residential photovoltaic system costs fell by an average of 6% to 8% a year — this fall then picked up after 2012, with costs for solar systems under 10 kW in size falling by 12% or $0.65 per watt.
“There is still considerable uncertainty as to how low PV system prices will drop in the next five to 10 years,” noted David Feldman, the study’s lead author and NREL financial analyst in an interview with the Denver Business Journal.
As of the beginning of 2014, the average reported price for small solar systems was $4.50 a watt — which is down from $4.74 a watt in 2013.
These numbers mean that the goals of the US Department of Energy’s SunShot Initiative are looking quite achievable — the most notable goal is to make solar energy cost-competitive with most other sources of energy generation by 2020 (on a wholesale electricity basis). If this goal is achieved, that means that the cost of small solar PV systems will have fallen by 75% between 2010 and 2020.
Given that the initiative has now achieved 60% of its goal, the goal does certainly look to be achievable.
One of the initiative’s main efforts to accelerate solar deployment in the US has been through the support of community solar projects — thereby allowing solar energy to become available to those who can’t install systems on their property.
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In October, SunShot awarded $700,000 to community solar developer Clean Energy Collective (CEC) to build a national online portal to help other parties develop their own successful community solar programs. Ultimately, the NCSP (National Community Solar Platform) will help drive down the cost of solar and facilitate the nationwide deployment and utilization of solar power.
With 16 shared solar projects online in Colorado alone—and more than 40 throughout the US—CEC’s community-owned solar model is gaining traction. Two new facilities in Denver were interconnected in August, offering Xcel Energy customers the ability to own solar panels in a centralized array for $3.70 per watt. In Boulder, the cost to buy panels in CEC’s second community-owned solar array is now $3.55 per watt. Both cities offer solar panels for around $.85 per watt less than NREL’s average installed price for the first half of 2014—without a single customer needing to replace a roof or cut down a tree.
Although the price of solar PV systems is anticipated to decline over the next several years, those with an electric bill from Xcel Energy will miss out on the biggest bang for their buck if they wait to purchase community-owned solar panels. This is because the payments that Xcel issues to its ratepayers for producing their own solar power (called Renewable Energy Credits or RECs) are set to expire as the investor-owned utility reaches its state-mandate for renewable generation.
While those recommendations are of course local to those in the service area of Xcel Energy, the broader point applies — while prices are likely to continue falling through 2016, as the report notes, many support and incentive programs are looking likely to expire without being renewed. So now is likely as good a time as ever to go solar!
Image Credit: NREL