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Berkeley Lab report analyzes distributed solar progress

image credit: Source: Berkeley Lab
EMP at LBL Content Contributor's picture
Electricity Markets & Policy Department Lawrence Berkeley National Lab

The Electricity Markets and Policy Department ( is part of the US Department of Energy's network of national labs.  EMP conducts technical, economic, and policy analysis of energy...

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  • Sep 15, 2021

Berkeley Lab released its latest edition of Tracking the Sun, an annual report describing pricing and design trends for grid-connected, distributed solar photovoltaic (PV) systems in the United States. The latest edition is based on data from roughly 2.2 million systems installed nationally through year-end 2020, representing 78% of all systems.


The report describes trends related to:


•  Project characteristics, including system size, module efficiencies, prevalence of paired PV with storage, use of module-level power electronics, third-party ownership, mounting configurations, panel orientation, and non-residential customer segmentation.


•  Median installed-price trends, including both long-term and more recent temporal trends at the national and state levels, with comparisons to other recent PV cost and pricing benchmarks as well as to prices reported for other countries.


•  Variability in pricing across individual projects based on system size, state, installer, module efficiency, inverter technology, and non-residential customer type. The report also includes an econometric analysis to estimate the effects of individual pricing drivers on installed prices for host-owned residential systems installed in 2020.


The report, published in slide-deck format, is accompanied by a narrative summary briefing, interactive data visualizations, public data file, and summary data tables. In addition, the authors will host a webinar summarizing key findings from the report on September 22 at 10 am Pacific/ 1 pm Eastern time. Please register for the webinar here.


In one of the key trends from the report, installed prices for residential, small non-residential, and large non-residential systems have fallen over the long-term by roughly $0.4 per Watt (W) per year, on average, but have tapered off since 2014, dropping by $0.2/W per year since then. Over the last year of the analysis period (2019-2020), median prices for residential systems remained effectively flat at $3.8/W, while price declines in the non-residential sector continued on their recent historical trajectory, falling by $0.2/W for both small and large non-residential systems.


Distributed solar installed costs. Source:  Tracking the Sun 2021 Edition, Berkeley Lab.


For further discussion of these and other key market trends, join the webinar or refer to the report and accompanying data resources.


The work was supported by the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Energy Technologies Office.


Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Sep 16, 2021

Are the technology trends that were discussed here implemented into the DOE Solar Futures study that made headlines recently with the conclusion that 45% of U.S. power could come from solar by 2050? I recognize this report is a review of current status as opposed to forecasting where prices are going, but I'm just curious if there was alignment in inputs here (particularly given the involvement of the DOE SETO in both). 

Matt -- Yes, Tracking the Sun is more of an annual progress report, while NREL's Solar Futures study modeled future deployment scenarios.  LBL also produces the annual tracker of utility-scale solar projects, at 

That report has some of the current technology and deployment trends that show where the future of solar could be headed -- lots of single-axis trackers, paired with battery storage, and high inverter-loading ratios.

Jim Stack's picture
Jim Stack on Sep 17, 2021

EMP , Great report. I don't see anything on the great new storage options that make Solar even better. Is that not part of this great progress? 

Jim Stack -- Tracking the Sun does report numbers on how often distributed solar is paired with behind-the-meter storage.  Pairing storage with solar rose to 8% of new systems in 2020. California has the largest number of installs but Hawaii, with 80% of all residential installs, has the highest penetration.  In Hawaii, the biggest driver is interconnection policies intended to deal with very high penetration levels of distributed solar.  In California, it stems from Public Safety Power Shutoff events an state incentives like the Self Generation Incentive Program (SGIP).


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