U.S. Solar Photovoltaic System Cost Benchmark: Q1 2018

U.S. Solar Photovoltaic System Cost Benchmark: Q1 2018
U.S. Solar Photovoltaic System Cost
       Benchmark: Q1 2018
       Ran Fu, David Feldman, and Robert Margolis
       National Renewable Energy Laboratory




NREL is a national laboratory of the U.S. Department of Energy           Technical Report
Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy                           NREL/TP-6A20-72399
Operated by the Alliance for Sustainable Energy, LLC                     November 2018
This report is available at no cost from the National Renewable Energy
Laboratory (NREL) at www.nrel.gov/publications.

Contract No. DE-AC36-08GO28308
U.S. Solar Photovoltaic System Cost Benchmark: Q1 2018
U.S. Solar Photovoltaic System Cost
       Benchmark: Q1 2018
       Ran Fu, David Feldman, and Robert Margolis
       National Renewable Energy Laboratory


       Suggested Citation
       Fu, Ran, David Feldman, and Robert Margolis. 2018. U.S. Solar Photovoltaic System
       Cost Benchmark: Q1 2018. Golden, CO: National Renewable Energy Laboratory.
       NREL/TP-6A20-72399. https://www.nrel.gov/docs/fy19osti/72399.pdf.




NREL is a national laboratory of the U.S. Department of Energy           Technical Report
Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy                           NREL/TP-6A20-72399
Operated by the Alliance for Sustainable Energy, LLC                     November 2018

This report is available at no cost from the National Renewable Energy   National Renewable Energy Laboratory
Laboratory (NREL) at www.nrel.gov/publications.                          15013 Denver West Parkway
                                                                         Golden, CO 80401
Contract No. DE-AC36-08GO28308                                           303-275-3000 • www.nrel.gov
U.S. Solar Photovoltaic System Cost Benchmark: Q1 2018
NOTICE

This work was authored by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, operated by Alliance for Sustainable
Energy, LLC, for the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) under Contract No. DE-AC36-08GO28308. Funding
provided by the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Solar Energy
Technologies Office. The views expressed herein do not necessarily represent the views of the DOE or the U.S.
Government.

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U.S. Solar Photovoltaic System Cost Benchmark: Q1 2018
Acknowledgments
       This work was authored by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, operated by Alliance for
       Sustainable Energy, LLC, for the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) under Contract No. DE-
       AC36-08GO28308. Funding provided by U.S. Department of Energy Office of Energy
       Efficiency and Renewable Energy Solar Energy Technologies Office. The views expressed in the
       article do not necessarily represent the views of the DOE or the U.S. Government. The U.S.
       Government retains and the publisher, by accepting the article for publication, acknowledges that
       the U.S. Government retains a nonexclusive, paid-up, irrevocable, worldwide license to publish
       or reproduce the published form of this work, or allow others to do so, for U.S. Government
       purposes.




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U.S. Solar Photovoltaic System Cost Benchmark: Q1 2018
List of Acronyms
       AC                      alternating current
       BOS                     balance of system
       DC                      direct current
       EPC                     engineering, procurement, and construction
       FICA                    Federal Insurance Contributions Act
       GW                      gigawatt
       ILR                     inverter loading ratio
       ITC                     investment tax credit
       LCOE                    levelized cost of energy
       MACRS                   Modified Accelerated Cost Recovery System
       MLPE                    module-level power electronics
       NEC                     National Electric Code
       NEM                     net energy metering
       NREL                    National Renewable Energy Laboratory
       O&M                     operation and maintenance
       PERC                    passivated emitter and rear cells
       PII                     permitting, inspection, and interconnection
       PV                      photovoltaic(s)
       Q                       quarter
       R&D                     research and development
       SAM                     System Advisor Model
       SG&A                    sales, general, and administrative
       TPO                     third party ownership
       USD                     U.S. dollars
       Vdc                     volts direct current
       Wac                     watts alternating current
       Wdc                     watts direct current




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U.S. Solar Photovoltaic System Cost Benchmark: Q1 2018
Executive Summary
       This report benchmarks U.S. solar photovoltaic (PV) system installed costs as of the first quarter
       of 2018 (Q1 2018). We use a bottom-up method, accounting for all system and project-
       development costs incurred during the installation to model the costs for residential, commercial,
       and utility-scale systems. In general, we attempt to model the typical installation techniques and
       business operations from an installed-cost perspective. Costs are represented from the
       perspective of the developer/installer; thus, all hardware costs represent the price at which
       components are purchased by the developer/installer, not accounting for preexisting supply
       agreements or other contracts. Importantly, the benchmark also represents the sales price paid to
       the installer; therefore, it includes profit in the cost of the hardware, 1 along with the profit the
       installer/developer receives, as a separate cost category. However, it does not include any
       additional net profit, such as a developer fee or price gross-up, which is common in the
       marketplace. We adopt this approach owing to the wide variation in developer profits in all three
       sectors, where project pricing is highly dependent on region and project specifics such as local
       retail electricity rate structures, local rebate and incentive structures, competitive environment,
       and overall project or deal structures. Finally, our benchmarks are national averages weighted
       by state installed capacities. Table ES-1 summarizes the first-order benchmark assumptions.

                                            Table ES-1. Benchmark Assumptions

           Unit               Description

           Values             2018 U.S. dollars (USD) 2.

           System Sizes       In direct current (DC) terms; inverter prices are converted by DC-to-alternating
                              current (AC) ratios

           PV Sector          Description                                                           Size Range

           Residential        Residential rooftop systems                                           3–10 kW

           Commercial         Commercial rooftop systems, ballasted racking                         10 kW–2 MW

           Utility-Scale      Ground-mounted systems, fixed-tilt and one-axis tracker               >2 MW


       Based on our bottom-up modeling, the Q1 2018 PV cost benchmarks are:

           •      $2.70 per watt DC (Wdc) (or $3.11 per watt AC [Wac]) for residential systems
           •      $1.83/Wdc (or $2.10/Wac) for commercial systems




       1
         Profit is one of the differentiators between “cost” (aggregated expenses incurred by a developer/installer to build
       a system) and “price” (what the end user pays for a system).
       2
         The dollar per watt total cost value is benchmarked as three significant figures, because the model inputs, such as
       module and inverter prices, use three significant figures.


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U.S. Solar Photovoltaic System Cost Benchmark: Q1 2018
•    $1.06/Wdc (or $1.44/Wac) for fixed-tilt utility-scale systems
           •    $1.13/Wdc (or $1.47/Wac) for one-axis-tracking utility-scale systems. 3
       Figure ES-1 puts our Q1 2018 benchmark results in context with the results of previous NREL
       benchmarking analyses. When comparing the results across this period, it is important to note
       the following:

       1. Values are inflation adjusted using the Consumer Price Index (2018). Thus, historical values
          from our models are adjusted and presented as real USD instead of nominal USD.
       2. Cost categories are aggregated for comparison purposes. “Soft Costs – Others” represents
          permitting, inspection, and interconnection (PII); land acquisition; sales tax; and engineering,
          procurement, and construction (EPC)/developer overhead and net profit.
       3. A comparison of Q1 2017 and Q1 2018 is presented in Table ES-2.
       Overall, modeled PV installed costs across the three sectors have experienced different recent
       changes. The inflation-adjusted system cost differences between Q1 2017 and Q1 2018 are a
       $0.14/Wdc decrease for residential PV, a $0.05/Wdc decrease for commercial PV, a $0.02/Wdc
       increase for fixed-tilt utility-scale PV, and a $0.01/Wdc increase for one-axis tracker utility-scale
       PV. Table ES-2 shows the benchmarked values for all three sectors and drivers of cost decreases
       and increases.




       3
         This year, we use the DC-to-AC ratio 1.36 for fixed-tilt and 1.30 for one-axis-tracking utility-scale PV systems
       (see Section 2.5).


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U.S. Solar Photovoltaic System Cost Benchmark: Q1 2018
Figure ES-1. NREL PV system cost benchmark summary (inflation adjusted), 2010–2018




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U.S. Solar Photovoltaic System Cost Benchmark: Q1 2018
Table ES-2. Comparison of Q1 2017 and Q1 2018 PV System Cost Benchmarks

                                                                                      Utility-Scale PV, One-
        Sector              Residential PV               Commercial PV
                                                                                      Axis Tracking

        Q1 2017
        Benchmarks in       $2.80                        $1.85                        $1.11
        2017 USD/Wdc

        Q1 2017
        Benchmarks in       $2.84                        $1.88                        $1.12
        2018 USD/Wdc

        Q1 2018
        Benchmarks in       $2.70                        $1.83                        $1.13
        2018 USD/Wdc

                            •   Higher module
                                efficiency
                            •   Lower structural BOS     •        Lower inverter
                                                                                      •   Lower inverter price
                                commodity price                   price
                                                                                      •   Higher module
                            •   Lower electrical BOS     •        Higher module
                                                                                          efficiency
                                commodity price                   efficiency
                                                                                      •   Optimized design
                            •   Higher labor             •        Smaller developer
                                                                                          coefficients for wind
        Drivers of Cost         productivity                      team
                                                                                          loads
        Decrease            •   Lower supply chain       •        Lower permitting
                                                                                      •   1,500 Vdc to replace
                                costs                             and
                                                                                          1,000 Vdc
                                                                  interconnection
                            •   Decrease in higher-                                   •   Lower developer
                                                                  costs
                                cost module inventory                                     overhead
                            •   Higher small installer
                                market share
                            •   Lower permitting cost

                            •   Higher mixed inverter
                                price due to higher      •        Higher module
                                                                                      •   Higher module price
        Drivers of Cost         advanced inverter                 price
                                                                                      •   Higher labor wages
        Increase                adoption                 •        Higher labor
                            •   Higher module price                                   •   Higher steel prices
                                                                  wages
                            •   Higher labor wages




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U.S. Solar Photovoltaic System Cost Benchmark: Q1 2018
As Figure ES-1 shows, hardware cost did not experience substantial cost reductions in Q1 2018
       owing to an increase in U.S. module prices. This has changed the trend of percentage of non-
       hardware, or “soft,” costs. 4 Figure ES-2 shows the contribution from soft costs. 5 Soft costs and
       hardware costs also interact with each other. For instance, module efficiency improvements have
       reduced the number of modules required to construct a system of a given size, thus reducing
       hardware costs. This trend has also reduced soft costs from direct labor and related installation
       overhead.




            Figure ES-2. Modeled trend of soft cost as a proportion of total cost by sector, 2010–2018
       Our bottom-up system cost models enable us to investigate regional variations, system
       configurations (such as module-level power electronics [MLPE] vs. non-MLPE, fixed-tilt vs.
       one-axis tracker, and small vs. large system size), and business structures (such as installer vs.
       integrator, and EPC vs. developer). Different scenarios result in different costs, so consistent
       comparisons can only be made when cost scenarios are aligned.

       Finally, the changes in installed cost—along with improvements in operation, system design, and
       technology—have resulted in changes in the cost of electricity (Figure ES-3). U.S. residential and
       commercial PV systems are 89% and 91% toward achieving the U.S. Department of Energy Solar
       Energy Technologies Office’s (SETO’s) 2020 electricity price targets, and U.S. utility-scale PV
       systems have achieved their 2020 SETO target 3 years early.




       4
        Soft cost = total cost - hardware (module, inverter, structural and electrical BOS) cost.
       5
        An increasing soft cost proportion in Figure ES-2 indicates soft costs declined more slowly than did hardware
       costs; it does not indicate soft costs increased on an absolute basis.


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Figure ES-3. NREL PV LCOE benchmark summary (inflation adjusted), 2010–2018




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Table of Contents
       1     Introduction ........................................................................................................................................... 1
       2     Model Inputs and Sources ................................................................................................................... 3
             2.1         California’s NEM Interconnection Applications Data Set ........................................................ 3
             2.2         Module Power and Efficiency ................................................................................................... 5
             2.3         PV System Size ......................................................................................................................... 6
             2.4         Module-Level Power Electronics .............................................................................................. 7
             2.5         Inverter Prices and DC-to-AC Ratios ........................................................................................ 9
             2.6         Module Prices .......................................................................................................................... 11
             2.7         Small Installers vs. National Integrators in the Residential PV Model ................................... 13
             2.8         PV Levelized Cost of Energy Methods ................................................................................... 14
       3     Residential PV Model ......................................................................................................................... 16
             3.1         Residential Model Structure, Inputs, and Assumptions .......................................................... 16
             3.2         Residential Model Output ....................................................................................................... 18
             3.3         Residential Model Output vs. Reported Costs ........................................................................ 19
             3.4         Residential PV Price Benchmark Historical Trends................................................................ 20
             3.5         Residential PV Levelized Cost of Energy Historical Trends .................................................. 21
       4     Commercial PV Model ........................................................................................................................ 24
             4.1         Commercial Model Structure, Inputs, and Assumptions ......................................................... 24
             4.2         Commercial Model Output ...................................................................................................... 25
             4.3         Commercial PV Price Benchmark Historical Trends .............................................................. 27
             4.4         Commercial PV Levelized Cost of Energy Historical Trends ................................................ 28
       5     Utility-Scale PV Model ........................................................................................................................ 30
             5.1         Utility-Scale Model Structure, Inputs, and Assumptions ........................................................ 30
             5.2         Utility-Scale Model Output ..................................................................................................... 34
             5.3         Utility-Scale PV Price Benchmark Historical Trends ............................................................. 36
             5.4         Utility-Scale PV Levelized Cost of Energy Historical Trends ................................................ 37
       6     Model Applications ............................................................................................................................. 40
             6.1         System Cost Reduction from Economies of Scale .................................................................. 40
             6.2         Module Efficiency Impacts ..................................................................................................... 40
       7 Conclusions ........................................................................................................................................ 42
       References ................................................................................................................................................. 46
       Appendix. PV System LCOE Benchmarks in 2018 USD ....................................................................... 48




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List of Figures
       Figure ES-1. NREL PV system cost benchmark summary (inflation adjusted), 2010–2018 .................... viii
       Figure ES-2. Modeled trend of soft cost as a proportion of total cost by sector, 2010–2018 ....................... x
       Figure ES-3. NREL PV LCOE benchmark summary (inflation adjusted), 2010–2018 .............................. xi
       Figure 1. Growth of U.S. PV capacity, 2004–2017 (Bloomberg 2018) ........................................................ 1
       Figure 2. Installed capacities of residential and commercial PV systems covered by the California NEM
            database (Go Solar CA 2018) compared with GTM data (GTM Research 2018), 2010–2017 ........... 4
       Figure 3. Module power and efficiency trends from the California NEM database (Go Solar CA 2018),
            2010–2017 ........................................................................................................................................... 5
       Figure 4. PV system size trends from the California NEM database (Go Solar CA 2018), 2010–2017 ...... 6
       Figure 5. Residential inverter market in California from the California NEM database (Go Solar CA
            2018), 2010–2017 ................................................................................................................................ 7
       Figure 6. Commercial inverter market in California from the California NEM database (Go Solar CA
            2018), 2010–2017 ................................................................................................................................ 8
       Figure 7. Non-MLPE inverter prices (USD/Wac) from PVinsights (2018), Q1 2018.................................. 9
       Figure 8. MLPE inverter shipments and prices (USD/Wac) from public corporate filings (Enphase 2018,
            SolarEdge 2018), Q1 2014–Q1 2018 ................................................................................................. 10
       Figure 9. Ex-factory gate prices (spot prices) for U.S. and global multicrystalline-silicon modules from
            GTM/SEIA (2018) data ..................................................................................................................... 12
       Figure 10. Total residential PV module market costs (2018 USD) ............................................................ 12
       Figure 11. Residential PV market share: integrator vs. installer, Q1 2014–Q1 2018 ................................. 13
       Figure 12. Q1 2018 residential, commercial, and utility-scale O&M costs by category ............................ 15
       Figure 13. Residential PV: model structure ................................................................................................ 16
       Figure 14. Q1 2018 U.S. benchmark: 6.2-kW residential system cost (2018 USD/Wdc) .......................... 18
       Figure 15. Q1 2018 benchmark by location: 6.2-kW residential system cost (2018 USD/Wdc) ............... 19
       Figure 16. Q1 2018 NREL modeled cost benchmark (2018 USD/Wdc) vs. Q1 2018 company-reported
            costs ................................................................................................................................................... 20
       Figure 17. NREL residential PV system cost benchmark summary (inflation adjusted), 2010–2018........ 21
       Figure 18. LCOE for residential PV systems, by region, with and without ITC, 2010–2018 .................... 23
       Figure 19. Commercial PV: model structure .............................................................................................. 24
       Figure 20. Q1 2018 U.S. benchmark: commercial PV system cost (2018 USD/Wdc) ............................... 26
       Figure 21. Q1 2018 benchmark by location: 200-kW commercial PV system cost (2018 USD/Wdc) ...... 27
       Figure 22. NREL commercial PV system cost benchmark summary (inflation adjusted), 2010–2018 ..... 27
       Figure 23. LCOE for commercial PV systems, by region, with and without ITC, 2010–2018 .................. 29
       Figure 24. Utility-scale PV: model structure .............................................................................................. 30
       Figure 25. Percentage of U.S. utility-scale PV systems using tracking systems, 2007–2017 (Bolinger and
            Seel 2018) .......................................................................................................................................... 33
       Figure 26. Utility-scale PV: 2017 capacity installed and percentage of unionized labor by state (BLS
            2018, GTM Research and SEIA 2018) .............................................................................................. 34
       Figure 27. Q1 2018 benchmark by location: 100-MW utility-scale PV systems, EPC only
            (2018 USD/Wdc) ............................................................................................................................... 35
       Figure 28. Q1 2018 U.S. benchmark: utility-scale PV total cost (EPC + developer), 2018 USD/Wdc ..... 36
       Figure 29. NREL utility-scale PV system cost benchmark summary (inflation adjusted), 2010–2018 ..... 37
       Figure 30. LCOE for utility-scale PV systems, by region, with and without ITC, 2010–2018 .................. 39
       Figure 31. Model application: U.S. utility-scale one-axis tracking PV system cost reduction
            from economies of scale (2018 USD/Wdc) ....................................................................................... 40
       Figure 32. Modeled impacts of module efficiency on total system costs, 2018 ......................................... 41
       Figure 33. NREL PV system cost benchmark summary (inflation adjusted), 2010–2018 ......................... 43
       Figure 34. Modeled trend of soft cost as a proportion of total cost by sector, 2010–2018 ......................... 45
       Figure 35. NREL PV LCOE benchmark summary (inflation adjusted), 2010–2018 ................................. 45


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List of Tables
       Table ES-1. Benchmark Assumptions ......................................................................................................... vi
       Table ES-2. Comparison of Q1 2017 and Q1 2018 PV System Cost Benchmarks ..................................... ix
       Table 1. Inverter Price Conversion (2018 USD)......................................................................................... 11
       Table 2. Residential PV: Modeling Inputs and Assumptions ..................................................................... 17
       Table 3. Residential PV LCOE Assumptions, 2010–2018 ......................................................................... 22
       Table 4. Commercial PV: Modeling Inputs and Assumptions ................................................................... 25
       Table 5. Commercial PV LCOE Assumptions, 2010–2018 ....................................................................... 28
       Table 6. Utility-Scale PV: Modeling Inputs and Assumptions ................................................................... 31
       Table 7. Characteristics of Assuming 1,500 Vdc vs. 1,000 Vdc for Utility-Scale PV Systems ................. 32
       Table 8. One-Axis Tracker and Fixed-Tilt Utility-Scale PV LCOE Assumptions, 2010–2018 ................. 38
       Table 9. Comparison of Q1 2017 and Q1 2018 PV System Cost Benchmarks .......................................... 44
       Table 10. NREL LCOE Summary (2018 cents/kWh) ................................................................................ 48




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1 Introduction
       Solar photovoltaic (PV) deployment has grown rapidly in the United States over the past several
       years. As Figure 1 shows, in 2017 new U.S. PV installations included 2.1 GW in the residential
       sector, 1.5 GW in the commercial sector, and 7.1 GW in the utility-scale sector—totaling 10.7
       GW across all sectors (Bloomberg 2018). Although this represents 30% less capacity than in
       2016, it still represents 40% growth over 2015 installations and the second highest installation
       year to date.




                            Figure 1. Growth of U.S. PV capacity, 2004–2017 (Bloomberg 2018)
       This report continues tracking cost reductions by benchmarking costs of U.S. residential,
       commercial, and utility-scale PV systems built in Q1 2018. It was produced in conjunction with
       several related research activities at NREL and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL),
       which are documented in Barbose and Darghouth (2017), Bolinger and Seel (2017) 6, Chung et
       al. (2015), Feldman et al. (2015), and Fu et al. (2016).

       Our benchmarking method includes bottom-up accounting for all system and project-
       development costs incurred when installing residential, commercial, and utility-scale systems,
       and it models the Q1 2018 costs for such systems excluding any previous supply agreements
       or contracts. In general, we attempt to model the typical installation techniques and business
       operations from an installed-cost perspective, and our benchmarks are national averages of
       installed capacities, weighted by state. The residential benchmark is further averaged across
       installer and integrator business models, weighted by market share. All benchmarks assume non-
       union construction labor, although union labor cases are estimated for utility-scale systems.




       6
           LBNL compares the bottom-up cost results among various entities, including our results.


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Our modeled costs can be interpreted as the sales price an engineering, procurement, and
       construction (EPC) contractor/developer might charge for a system before any developer fee or
       price gross-up (although our costs do include development costs). We use this approach owing
       to the wide variation in developer profits in all three sectors, where project pricing is highly
       dependent on region and project specifics such as local retail electricity rate structures, local
       rebate and incentive structures, competitive environment, and overall project or deal structures.

       The remainder of this report is organized as follows. Section 2 describes our model inputs
       and sources. Sections 3, 4, and 5 show specific model inputs and outputs for the residential,
       commercial, and utility-scale PV sectors, including historical trends in system costs and the
       levelized costs of energy (LCOEs). Section 6 includes two additional applications of our cost
       modeling: system cost reduction from economies of scale and module efficiency impacts.
       Finally, Section 7 puts the results in context and offers conclusions.




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2 Model Inputs and Sources
       This section describes our model inputs and sources. Section 2.1 describes our main data source,
       California’s Net Energy Metering (NEM) Interconnection Applications Data Set. Sections 2.2
       through 2.6 detail the inputs for the various components affecting PV system cost. Section 2.7
       describes how we allocate installations to installers versus integrators in the residential PV
       model, and Section 2.8 describes our LCOE calculation methods.

       2.1 California’s NEM Interconnection Applications Data Set
       We use the California NEM Interconnection Applications Data Set (CSI 2018) to benchmark
       generic system characteristics, such as system size, module power and efficiency, and choice
       of power electronics. This database is updated monthly and contains all interconnection
       applications in the service territories of the state’s three investor-owned utilities (Pacific Gas &
       Electric, Southern California Edison, and San Diego Gas & Electric). Although there are other
       databases for other markets, such as Massachusetts and New York, we use only the California
       NEM database to inform these general benchmark characteristics because of its higher
       granularity and greater consistency. However, we do not use the California NEM database for
       regional cost analyses. Inputs and sources for regional analyses are described in subsequent
       sections of this report.

       As shown in Figure 2, the California NEM database captures most residential capacity in
       California (81% of installed capacity in 2016 and 83% in 2017) and a sizable portion of
       commercial capacity (75% of installed capacity in 2016 and 54% in 2017). Note that:

           •   We analyze only rooftop systems in the database for the residential and commercial
               sectors. We exclude ground-mounted systems.
           •   We exclude systems with only alternating-current (AC) power records.
           •   We exclude systems that were still in the validation phase.
           •   We use GTM (2018) data to represent total installed capacities.




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Figure 2. Installed capacities of residential and commercial PV systems covered by the California
         NEM database (Go Solar CA 2018) compared with GTM data (GTM Research 2018), 2010–2017




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2.2 Module Power and Efficiency
       Figure 3 displays module power and efficiency data from the California NEM database. Since
       2010, module power and efficiency in both sectors have steadily improved. We use the values of
       17.2% (residential) and 19.1% (commercial and utility-scale) module efficiency in our models.
       Because module selection may vary in different regions, the average module efficiencies in
       regions other than California may be different.




                 Figure 3. Module power and efficiency trends from the California NEM database
                                        (Go Solar CA 2018), 2010–2017




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2.3 PV System Size
       Figure 4 displays average system sizes from the California NEM database. Average residential
       system sizes have not changed significantly over the past 6 years. We use the 2017 value of 6.2
       kW as the baseline case in our residential cost model. Conversely, commercial system sizes have
       changed more frequently, likely reflecting the wide scope for “commercial customers,” which
       include schools, office buildings, malls, retail stores, and government projects. We use 200 kW
       as the baseline case in our commercial model.




       Figure 4. PV system size trends from the California NEM database (Go Solar CA 2018), 2010–2017




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2.4 Module-Level Power Electronics
       Microinverters and DC power optimizers are collectively referred to as module-level power
       electronics (MLPE). By allowing designs with different roof configurations (orientations and
       tilts) and constantly tracking the maximum power point for each module, MLPE provide an
       optimized design solution at the module level.




               Figure 5. Residential inverter market in California from the California NEM database
                                          (Go Solar CA 2018), 2010–2017 7




       7
        “Others” represents other companies with small market shares. Although some companies may also have MLPE-
       based inverter products, we assume that SolarEdge and Enphase represent MLPE inverter manufacturers.


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In 2017, MLPE—represented by the combined share of Enphase microinverters and SolarEdge
       DC power optimizer inverter solutions—reached 65% of the total California residential market
       share (Figure 5). In our residential system cost model, string inverter, power optimizer, and
       microinverter options are modeled separately, and their market shares (35%, 37%, and 28%) are
       used for the weighted-average case. Conversely, MLPE growth (represented by Enphase and
       SolarEdge) has been slow in California’s commercial sector, reaching a share of only 8% in 2017
       (Figure 6). Thus, we do not include MLPE inverter solutions in our commercial model.




              Figure 6. Commercial inverter market in California from the California NEM database
                                        (Go Solar CA 2018), 2010–2017




                                                          8
This report is available at no cost from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) at www.nrel.gov/publications.
2.5 Inverter Prices and DC-to-AC Ratios
       As shown in Figure 7, we source non-MLPE inverter prices from the PVinsights (2018)
       database, which contains typical global prices between Tier 1 suppliers and developers in the
       market. For MLPE inverter prices, we use data from public corporate filings, shown in Figure 8
       (Enphase 2018, SolarEdge 2018). 8 Enphase’s Q1 2018 revenue per inverter capacity shipped was
       $0.45/Wac, which represents the typical microinverter price. SolarEdge’s Q1 2018 revenue per
       inverter capacity shipped was $0.26/Wac, including sales from DC power optimizers, string
       inverters, and monitoring equipment, which are typically included in one product offering. GTM
       Research estimates a DC power optimizer cost of $0.06/Wac (GTM Research 2018), implying a
       string inverter and monitoring equipment price of $0.20/Wac. 9

       We convert the USD/Wac inverter prices from Figure 7 and Figure 8 to USD/Wdc using the DC-
       to-AC ratios shown in Table 1. In our benchmark, we use USD/Wdc for all costs, including
       inverter prices.




                  Figure 7. Non-MLPE inverter prices (USD/Wac) from PVinsights (2018), Q1 2018




       8
        All sourced inverter prices are quoted in USD/Wac unless otherwise noted.
       9
         DC Power Optimizer String Inverter and monitoring equipment Q1 2018 price of $0.20/Wac is calculated by
       subtracting the price of a DC power optimizer, as reported by GTM Research of $0.06/Wac, by the implied price of
       SolarEdge’s MLPE package of DC power optimizers, string inverters, and monitoring equipment (i.e. $0.26/Wac –
       $0.06/Wac = $0.20/Wac).


                                                              9
This report is available at no cost from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) at www.nrel.gov/publications.
Figure 8. MLPE inverter shipments and prices (USD/Wac) from public corporate filings
                              (Enphase 2018, SolarEdge 2018), Q1 2014–Q1 2018




                                                         10
This report is available at no cost from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) at www.nrel.gov/publications.
Table 1. Inverter Price Conversion (2018 USD)

           Inverter Type            Sector                             USD/Wac   DC-to-AC Ratioa     USD/Wdc

           Single-Phase String      Residential PV (non-
                                                                       0.14      1.15                0.12
           Inverter                 MLPE)

           Microinverter            Residential PV (MLPE)              0.45      1.15                0.39

           DC Power Optimizer
                                    Residential PV (MLPE)              0.20      1.15                0.18
           String Inverter

           Three-Phase String       Commercial PV (non-
                                                                       0.09      1.15                0.08
           Inverter                 MLPE)


           Central Inverter         Utility-scale PV (fixed-tilt)      0.06      1.36 (oversized)b   0.04


                                    Utility-scale PV (1-axis
           Central Inverter                                            0.06      1.30 (oversized)    0.05
                                    tracker)

       All inverter prices include the cost of monitoring equipment.
       a
         We updated the central inverter DC-to-AC ratios using Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory data
       (Bolinger and Seel 2018); for the other ratios, we use the estimates from our 2017 report (Fu et al. 2017)
       based on interview feedback (NREL 2018).
       b
         A DC-to-AC ratio larger than one means that the PV array’s DC rating is higher than the inverter’s AC
       rating. This increases inverter utilization, although it also results in some PV energy curtailment, or
       “clipping,” during the sunniest periods when PV output exceeds the inverter’s capacity. PV module prices
       have dropped more rapidly than inverter prices have, and many utility-scale PV developers have found it
       economical to oversize their PV arrays. The resulting AC-generation gains during periods of less-than-
       peak PV production more than offset the losses from occasional peak-period clipping (Bolinger and
       Seel 2016).

       2.6 Module Prices
       We assume an ex-factory gate (spot or first-buyer) price of $0.47/Wdc for Tier 1 crystalline-
       silicon PV modules in Q1 2018. As Figure 9 shows, U.S. spot prices declined substantially
       between 2014 and 2016, approaching global spot prices. In 2017, however, U.S. spot prices rose
       as global spot prices continued to decline. Several factors, including uncertainty about U.S.
       policy on imported modules, may have contributed to the divergence between U.S. and global
       spot prices. In early 2018, U.S. spot prices were at $0.47/Wdc–$0.17/Wdc above the global spot
       price—and appeared to be leveling off.

       Although commercial and utility-scale PV developers typically can procure modules at or near
       the spot price, residential integrators and installers incur additional supply chain costs (Figure
       10). Historical inventory price can create a price lag (approximately six months) for the market
       module price in the residential sector when the modules from previous procurement are installed
       in today’s systems. In the Q1 2017 residential PV benchmark this supply chain cost represented
       $0.21/W – a 60% premium. Because US module ASP was lower than Q1 2018 pricing for much
       of 2017 we do not include this supply chain cost in the current benchmark. We assume that small
       installers and national integrators are both subject to a 15% ($0.07/W) premium on the spot
       price for module shipping and handling (NREL 2018), consistent with Q1 2017 residential PV

                                                                    11
This report is available at no cost from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) at www.nrel.gov/publications.
benchmark. Small installers are subject to an additional 35% ($16/W) premium owing to small-
       scale procurement (Bloomberg 2018), increasing from an assumed 20% premium in the Q1 2017
       residential PV benchmark. Both types of companies are also subject to 6.9% sales tax (weighted
       national average), bringing the small installer module cost to $0.76/W and the national integrator
       cost to $0.58/W (Bloomberg 2018).




        Figure 9. Ex-factory gate prices (spot prices) for U.S. and global multicrystalline-silicon modules
                                            from GTM/SEIA (2018) data




                         Figure 10. Total residential PV module market costs (2018 USD)




                                                         12
This report is available at no cost from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) at www.nrel.gov/publications.
2.7 Small Installers vs. National Integrators in the Residential
           PV Model
       Our residential PV benchmark is based on two different business structures: “small installer”
       and “national integrator.” We define small installers as businesses that engage in lead generation,
       sales, and installation, but do not provide financing solutions. National integrators perform all
       small installer functions, and they provide financing and system monitoring for third-party-
       owned systems. In our models, the difference between small installers and national integrators
       is anifested in the overhead and sales and marketing cost categories, where the national
       integrator is modeled with higher expenses for customer acquisition, financial structuring,
       and asset management.

       To estimate the split in market share between small installers and national integrators, we use
       data compiled from corporate filings (Sunrun 2018, Vivint Solar 2018) and GTM Research and
       SEIA (2018). As shown in Figure 11, since 2015 small installers have gained more market share
       than national integrators, in part because the direct ownership business model, led by installers,
       has become more popular than third-party ownership. We use the 33% integrator and 67%
       installer market shares in our Q1 2018 model to compute the national weighted-average case
       in our residential PV model.




                Figure 11. Residential PV market share: integrator vs. installer, Q1 2014–Q1 2018
                              GTM Research and SEIA 2018, Sunrun 2018, Vivint Solar 2018




                                                         13
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2.8 PV Levelized Cost of Energy Methods
       Although LCOE is not a perfect metric to measure the competiveness of PV within the energy
       marketplace, it incorporates many PV metrics important to energy costs beyond upfront
       installation costs. In the previous edition of this report (Fu et al. 2017), we performed a literature
       review to determine inputs not already benchmarked in the report. When LCOE assumptions
       were not found in the selected literature in a given year, straight-line changes were assumed
       between any two values. This year, we inform the inputs using ongoing NREL benchmarking
       work. We input these assumptions into NREL’s System Advisor Model (SAM), a performance
       and financial model, 10 to calculate real LCOEs (considering inflation) for various locations.

       Annual Degradation
       In January 2018, NREL and DOE interviewed nine independent engineers and PV project
       financiers, who said they assume an annual PV module degradation of 0.7% per year. For certain
       projects with specific project and system characteristics that have been well vetted, some
       independent engineers assume a 0.5% annual degradation (Feldman et al. 2018). Because this
       lower value only applies to specific projects, we benchmark the higher degradation rate.

       Operations and Maintenance
       In 2018, a PV O&M working group convened under the sponsorship of DOE’s Solar Energy
       Technologies Office released a model (apsuite.sunspec.org) and method to calculate the cost
       associated with PV system O&M. O&M measures in the cost model correlate to the PV O&M
       services described in NREL et al. (2016) 11; O&M cost drivers in the model ultimately will be
       informed by actuarial failure and repair data, but current default values reflect the best judgement
       of the working group.

       O&M costs in the NREL O&M cost model include preventative maintenance, scheduled at
       regular intervals with costs increasing at an inflationary rate, as well as corrective maintenance to
       replace components. The model derives corrective maintenance by multiplying the replacement
       cost, including labor, by the probability that a failure will occur each year based on actuarial
       data. Component failure probabilities for each year are calculated using a Weibull, log-normal,
       or other distribution based on actual data, where possible.

       As shown in Figure 12, O&M costs include inverter replacement, which was a separately
       reported category from O&M costs in previous reports. The current benchmarks without inverter
       replacement are $11.5/kW/yr (residential), $12.0/kW/yr (commercial), $9.1/kW/yr (utility-scale,
       fixed-tilt), and $10.4/kW/yr (utility-scale, tracking), significantly below previous O&M-only
       benchmark estimates. This may indicate differences in assumptions about what type of work is
       included in O&M practices, or it may indicate that previous benchmarks incorporated some
       inverter replacement costs in both categories.




       10
            See https://sam.nrel.gov/.
       11
            https://www.nrel.gov/docs/fy17osti/67553.pdf


                                                           14
This report is available at no cost from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) at www.nrel.gov/publications.
$25
         O&M Costs ($/kW/year)                                                               Operations administration
                  $20
                                                                                             Inverter replacement
                  $15
                                                                                             Module replacement
                  $10
                                                                                             Component parts replacement
                     $5
                                                                                             System inspection and monitoring
                     $0
                                                                                             Module cleaning and vegetation
                                 Residential   Commercial   Utility-scale    Utility-scale   management
                                                             (fixed-tilt)     (tracking)

                       Figure 12. Q1 2018 residential, commercial, and utility-scale O&M costs by category
       System losses

       Energy losses occur between PV generation and output to the grid owing to AC and DC wiring
       losses, soiling, inverter mismatch, and shading and snow for certain systems. We aggregate the
       losses into two categories: pre-inverter derate (or DC losses) and inverter efficiency (or AC
       losses).

       Based on data analyzed by NREL, previous system loss benchmarks are consistent with current
       performance in the field, so these benchmarks have not been changed for 2018. We do assume a
       higher-voltage inverter in this year’s utility-scale PV benchmark: 1,500 V rather than the 1,000
       V used previously. However, increasing voltage typically has a negligible overall impact on
       losses. On the DC side, it reduces conductor losses per length of conductor, yet system layouts
       typically move to longer string lengths resulting in similar overall losses on the DC side
       (although cost is reduced). On the AC side, AC loss factors have little to do with the DC system
       voltage, so typically the AC losses will not change with higher DC voltages.

       Financing
       In 2018, NREL published its third DOE-sponsored effort to benchmark financing costs across
       the residential, commercial, and utility-scale PV markets, as part of its larger effort to benchmark
       the components of PV system costs (Feldman et al. 2016, Feldman and Schwabe 2017, Feldman
       and Schwabe 2018). All data compiled for these reports are derived from a combination of basic
       literature reviews, product research, and interviews with industry professionals.

       From 2017 to 2018, there was a modest reduction in the cost of equity for PV projects, debt
       interest rates remained approximately the same, and the debt fraction increased (in part due to the
       lowering in 2017 of the federal corporate tax rate). That said, the values each year generally fall
       within the same range. Given the limited sample size of respondents each year, and the range of
       responses, we have kept our 2018 financing assumptions unchanged from 2017.




                                                                        15
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3 Residential PV Model
       This section describes our residential model’s structure, inputs, and assumptions (Section 3.1),
       output (Section 3.2), differences between modeled output and reported costs (Section 3.3), and
       historical PV price (Section 3.4) and LCOE (Section 3.5) trends.

       3.1 Residential Model Structure, Inputs, and Assumptions
       We model a 6.2-kW residential rooftop system using 60-cell, multicrystalline, 17.2%-efficient
       modules from a Tier 1 supplier and a standard flush mount, pitched-roof racking system. Figure
       13 presents the cost drivers and assumptions, cost categories, inputs, and outputs of the model.
       Table 2 presents modeling inputs and assumptions in detail.




                                    Figure 13. Residential PV: model structure




                                                         16
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Table 2. Residential PV: Modeling Inputs and Assumptions

        Category              Modeled Value          Description                                                 Sources
        System size           6.2 kW                 Average installed size per system                           Go Solar CA (2018)
        Module efficiency     17.2%                  Average module efficiency                                   Go Solar CA (2018)
                                                                                                                 GTM and SEIA (2018), NREL
        Module price          $0.47/Wdc              Ex-factory gate (first buyer) price, Tier 1 modules
                                                                                                                 (2018)
                              Single-phase string
                              inverter: $0.12/Wdc
                              DC power optimizer                                                                 PVinsights (2018), NREL (2018),
        Inverter price        string inverter:       Ex-factory gate (first buyer) prices, Tier 1 inverters      corporate filings (Enphase 2018,
                              $0.18/Wdc                                                                          SolarEdge 2018)
                              Microinverter:
                              $0.39/Wdc
        Structural BOS                               Includes flashing for roof penetrations and all the rails
                              $0.10/Wdc                                                                          NREL (2018)
        (racking)                                    and clamps

                              $0.19–$0.27/Wdc        Conductors, switches, combiners and transition
                                                     boxes, as well as conduit, grounding equipment,             Model assumptions, NREL
        Electrical BOS        Varies by inverter     monitoring system or production meters, fuses, and          (2018), RSMeans (2017)
                              option                 breakers
                                                     15% costs and fees associated with shipping and
                                                     handling of equipment multiplied by the cost of doing
        Supply chain costs                           business index (101%)
                              Varies by installer
        (% of equipment                              Additional 35% small-scale procurement for module-          NREL (2018), model assumptions
                              type
        costs)                                       related supply chain costs for small installers.
                                                     Additional 20% for inverter-related supply chain costs
                                                     for small installers and 10% for national integrators
                              Varies by location;    Sales tax on the equipment; national benchmark
                                                                                                                 RSMeans (2018), GTM and SEIA
        Sales tax             weighted national      applies an average (by state) weighted by 2017
                                                                                                                 (2018)
                              average: 6.9%          installed capacities
                              Electrician: $19.74–
                              $38.96 per hour;
        Direct installation   Laborer: $12.88–       Modeled labor rate depends on state; national
                                                                                                                 BLS (2018), NREL (2018)
        labor                 $25.57 per hour;       benchmark uses weighted average of state rates
                              Varies by location
                              and inverter option
                                                     Workers compensation (state-weighted average),
        Burden rates (% of    Total nationwide       federal and state unemployment insurance, Federal
                                                                                                                 RSMeans (2018)
        direct labor)         average: 31.8%         Insurance Contributions Act (FICA), builders risk,
                                                     public liability
        Permitting,                                  Includes assumed building permitting fee of $200 and
        inspection, and                              six office staff hours for building permit preparation
                              $0.06/Wdc                                                                          NREL (2018)
        interconnection                              and submission, and interconnection application
        (PII)                                        preparation and submission

                              $0.30/Wdc              Total cost of sales and marketing activities over the
        Sales & marketing     (installer)            last year—including marketing and advertising, sales        NREL (2017), Sunrun (2017),
        (customer                                    calls, site visits, bid preparation, and contract           Vivint Solar (2017), Feldman et
        acquisition)          $0.44/Wdc              negotiation; adjusted based on state “cost of doing         al. (2013)
                              (integrator)           business” index
                                                     General and administrative expenses—including fixed
                              $0.29/Wdc              overhead expenses covering payroll (excluding
        Overhead (general     (installer)            permitting payroll), facilities, administrative, finance,   NREL (2018), Feldman et al.
        & administrative)     $0.37/Wdc              legal, information technology, and other corporate          (2013)
                              (integrator)           functions as well as office expenses; adjusted based
                                                     on state “cost of doing business” index
                                                     Fixed percentage margin applied to all direct costs
        Profit (%)            17%                    including hardware, installation labor, direct sales and    Fu et al. (2017)
                                                     marketing, design, installation, and permitting fees




                                                                    17
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3.2 Residential Model Output
       Figure 14 presents the U.S. national benchmark from our residential model. The national
       benchmark represents an average weighted by 2017 state installed capacities. Market shares of
       67% for installers and 33% for integrators are used to compute the national weighted average.
       String inverter, power optimizer, and microinverter options are each modeled individually, and
       the “mixed” case applies their market shares (35%, 37%, and 28%) 12 as weightings.




               Figure 14. Q1 2018 U.S. benchmark: 6.2-kW residential system cost (2018 USD/Wdc)
       Figure 15 presents the benchmark in the top U.S. PV markets (by 2018 installations), reflecting
       differences in supply chain and labor costs, sales tax, and SG&A expenses—that is, the cost of
       doing business (Case 2012).




       12
         This market share combination only reflects the California residential sector and may not reflect the actual
       national market shares.


                                                                18
This report is available at no cost from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) at www.nrel.gov/publications.
Figure 15. Q1 2018 benchmark by location: 6.2-kW residential system cost (2018 USD/Wdc)

       3.3 Residential Model Output vs. Reported Costs
       As shown in Figure 16, our bottom-up modeling approach yields a different cost structure than
       those reported by public solar integrators in their corporate filings 13 (Sunrun 2018, Vivint Solar
       2018). Because integrators sell and lease PV systems, they practice a different method of
       reporting costs than do businesses that only sell goods. Many of the costs for leased systems are
       reported over the life of the lease rather than the period in which the system is sold; therefore, it
       is difficult to determine the actual costs at the time of the sale. Although Sunrun and Vivint Solar
       report system costs in their corporate filings on a quarterly basis, the limited transparency in the
       public filings makes it difficult to determine the underlying costs as well as the timing of those
       costs. Because of the lack of transparency in the reported company costs, it is difficult to explain
       these differences entirely, and this topic is worthy of future research. Explanations could include
       the following:

       1. Reported companies may spend more on customer acquisition costs to grow market share.
       2. Reported companies’ customer acquisition costs consist of leasing, loan, and cash purchase
          options. Non-cash purchase options may have higher customer acquisition costs than the cash
          purchase model in this report. National installers also have recently spent considerable effort
          retraining sales teams as they have shifted focus towards offering customers a direct
          ownership option, rather than a lease or PPA. Retraining a sales staff can be a multi-month
          process and add considerable expense (GTM and SEIA 2018). Additionally, fewer systems
          may be sold during the transition process, which would increase customer acquisition costs
          on a per watt basis.
       3. Part of the difference in installation costs could come from preexisting contracts or older
          inventory that integrators used in systems installed in Q1 2018.


       13
         Since the acquisition of SolarCity by Tesla, its quarterly corporate filings do not include PV cost data (Tesla
       2018).


                                                                 19
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Figure 16. Q1 2018 NREL modeled cost benchmark (2018 USD/Wdc) vs. Q1 2018 company-
                                               reported costs

       3.4 Residential PV Price Benchmark Historical Trends
       NREL began benchmarking PV system costs in 2010 to track PV costs against DOE Solar
       Energy Technologies Office (SETO) targets and to examine cost-reduction opportunities for
       achieving these goals. 14 Since that time, NREL has produced seven additional benchmarks,
       including a historical Q4 2009 benchmark. Figure 17 summarizes the reduction in residential PV
       system cost benchmarks between 2010 and 2018. 15




       14
          The original overarching 2020 SETO goal for solar was to reach levelized cost parity with a new thermal plant,
       estimated to be 6 ¢/kWh without subsidies, or a system installed cost of $1/W. Commercial and residential PV were
       later separated to have their own goals of costs below retail rates, estimated to be 7 ¢/kWh and 9 ¢/kWh, or system
       installed costs of $1.25/W and $1.50/W, respectively (all 2020 targets are quoted in nominal USD). In recognition of
       the transformative solar progress to date and the potential for further innovation, in 2016 SETO extended its goals to
       reduce the unsubsidized cost of energy by 2030 to 3¢/kWh, 4¢/kWh, and 5¢/kWh for utility-scale PV, commercial
       PV, and residential PV (all 2030 targets are quoted in nominal USD).
       15
          Each year’s PV system cost benchmark corresponds to the NREL benchmark calculted in Q4 of the previous year
       or Q1 of the current year (e.g., 2010 = Q4 2009; 2017 = Q1 2017).


                                                                20
This report is available at no cost from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) at www.nrel.gov/publications.
Figure 17. NREL residential PV system cost benchmark summary (inflation adjusted),
                                                  2010–2018
       As demonstrated in Figure 17, from 2010 to 2018 there was a 63% reduction in the residential
       PV system cost benchmark. Approximately 57% of that reduction can be attributed to total
       hardware costs (module, inverter, and hardware BOS), with module prices dropping 82% over
       that period. An additional 19% can be attributed to labor costs, which dropped 77% over that
       period. The final 24% is attributable to other soft costs, including PII, sales tax, overhead, and
       net profit.

       From 2017 to 2018, there was a 5% reduction in the residential PV system cost benchmark.

       3.5 Residential PV Levelized Cost of Energy Historical Trends
       Assumptions for the residential PV LCOE benchmarks from 2010 to 2018 are summarized in
       Table 3. In addition to a 63% reduction in installed cost from 2010 to 2018, O&M costs declined
       60%, annual degradation declined 30%, equity discount rate declined 23%, debt interest rate
       declined 13%, and debt fraction increased 17%.




                                                         21
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