If you’re considering buying into a home or community solar project in the future, then you may want to do it within the next year or so. Both the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory have recently found that home and community solar facilities (“solar gardens”) will remain great price investments from now through the next several years.
The Colorado and California labs have kept tabs on costs of residential/community-scale solar systems for several decades. These government facilities are well aware that residential solar photovoltaic system costs have fallen by an average of 6-8% a year since the late 1990s. Small solar systems (at or under 10 kW) are continuing to dive. A recent study found that the average community solar program has 213 participants, who purchase power from a one-megawatt system that is 71% subscribed. At the beginning of 2014, the average reported price for these systems was $4.50/watt, down from $4.74/watt in 2013.
David Feldman, the study’s lead author and an NREL financial analyst, told the Denver Business Journal that “there is still considerable uncertainty as to how low PV system prices will drop in the next five to 10 years.” His report forecasts continued downward costs through 2016, with a bit of rise and fall before stabilizing in 2016.
These numbers mean that goals established by the Department of Energy are looking more and more achievable. DOE’s big push is to make solar energy cost-competitive, on a wholesale electricity basis, with most other power sources by 2020. The SunShot Initiative has already reached 60% of its goal. If cost equality is achieved, small solar PV system costs will have fallen by 75% between 2010 and 2020.
One of the SSI’s main efforts to accelerate solar deployment in the US has been to support community solar projects so that those who can’t install systems where they live can implement solar energy plans within community property. Utilities currently operate many of these projects for consumers in a win-win type of situation. Co-ops (already set up for billing and administration) are the main community solar drivers, says the Solar Electric Power Association. According to Clean Easy Energy:
“In October, SunShot awarded $700,000 to community solar developer Clean Energy Collective to build a national online portal to help other parties develop their own successful community solar programs. Ultimately, the National Community Solar Platform will help drive down the cost of solar and facilitate the nationwide deployment and utilization of solar power.”
Although prices are likely to continue to fall for a year or so, many support and incentive programs will possibly expire during that time without renewal. So now couldn’t be a better time to power yourself and your neighbors with emission-free 21st-century solar!