Characteristics of Low-Priced Solar Photovoltaic Systems in the United States

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Despite impressive recent cost reductions, there is wide dispersion in the prices of installed solar photovoltaic (PV) systems. We identify the most important factors that make a system likely to be low priced (LP). Our sample consists of detailed characteristics for 42,611 small-scale (< 15 kW) PV systems installed in 15 U.S. states during 2013. Using four definitions of LP systems, we compare LP and non-LP systems and find statistically significant differences in nearly all factors explored, including competition, installer scale, markets, demographics, ownership, policy, and system components. Logit and probit model results robustly indicate that LP systems are associated with markets with few active installers; experienced installers; customer ownership; large systems; retrofits; and thin-film, low-efficiency, and Chinese modules. We also find significant differences across states, with LP systems much more likely to occur in some than in others. Our focus on the left tail of the price distribution provides implications for policy that are distinct from recent studies of mean prices. While those studies find that PV subsidies increase mean prices, we find that subsidies also generate LP systems. PV subsidies appear to simultaneously shift and broaden the price distribution. Much of this broadening occurs in a particular location, northern California, which is worthy of further investigation with new data.

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Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory hosted a webinar on January 25, 2016 entitled "Characteristics of Low-Priced Solar Photovoltaic Systems in the United States."

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