The U.S. continues to lag behind global solar photovoltaic leaders Germany and Australia regarding prices for residential installations, according to a new report released by the Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI) and Georgia Tech Research Institute (GTRI).
The partners say the report, titled ‘Lessons from Australia: Reducing Solar PV Costs Through Installation Labor Efficiency,’ identifies on-the-ground opportunities for the U.S. market to reduce solar PV system costs and accelerate residential and commercial customer adoption.
With solar module costs relatively the same everywhere, the report says total soft costs – including customer acquisition, installation labor, permitting, inspection and interconnection – now comprise approximately 70% of the total installed price for a U.S. residential PV system, making soft costs a prime opportunity for drastic cost reductions.
After examining Germany's installation labor practices and releasing the results in a December 2013 study, RMI and GTRI traveled to Australia this past spring to analyze the varying PV installation processes of that country. The report says each provided a unique opportunity to draw a comparison between installation costs and methods; when combined with the U.S., the three countries comprise more than 39% of total global distributed PV generation.
In particular, the report says Australia has emerged as a dominant player in the world residential solar market, with more than 10% of households possessing a rooftop solar system with costs of $2.56/W, closely rivaling Germany's $2.21/W (compared with $4.93/W in the U.S.). Without using advanced technologies or processes, Australian installers can install solar systems in less than two-thirds the time per kilowatt than U.S. installers, the report adds.
"RMI's work in Australia diversifies our understanding of how the cost of installed solar PV systems can be competitively reduced," says Karen Crofton, a principal at RMI." The observations gleaned from Australia will help U.S. solar providers streamline their installation processes – starting today. If it can be done in Australia and Germany, there is no reason it cannot be done in the U.S."
Using time-and-motion methodologies, the report authors say they identified several cost-reduction opportunities during observations in Australia: pre-installation and base-installation process optimization, integrated racking and mounting solutions, and PV meter integration.
"Lessons learned from these leading markets in Germany and Australia are formative for advanced residential and commercial PV racking technologies currently under development," says GTRI Senior Research Engineer Joseph Goodman." Ultimately, we are looking to not only leapfrog best-in-class U.S. systems, but also surmount these global benchmarks – helping us reach the Department of Energy SunShot cost reduction targets."
The SunShot initiative aims to drive the cost of solar power down to the same as fossil-based generation sources without any subsidies by the year 2020. On a levelized cost of energy basis, the target is to get it down to about $0.05/kWh to $0.06/kWh.