October 06, 2007
US Home Solar Installations Up But Still Small

Rooftop photovoltaic installs are still a drop in the bucket.

Photovoltaic cells, most of which are made from silicon, have exploded in use around the country over the past five years as once-prohibitive costs for home use of the technology have declined. Between 2002 and 2006, the number of new photovoltaic systems installed in U.S. homes nearly tripled to 7,446 from 2,805, according to the Interstate Renewable Energy Council in Latham, N.Y. Industry officials say that such installations are expected to top 11,000 this year.

To put this in perspective the United States has about 70 million single family detached housing units. The yearly installation rate would have to go up by a factor of over 6000 to reach 1% of the existing single family home housing units per year (more for attached townhouses, apartment buildings, and other housing structures).

A large portion of solar costs involve come from installation and so methods to make installation faster and simpler could cut costs substantially.

Sun Run's contract--called a purchased power agreement--won't eliminate the initial cost of getting solar electricity. But it will reduce by about 60 percent the pain of shelling out anywhere from $20,000 to $35,000 for solar panels, according to the company.


Akeena Solar's Andalay panel is supposed to cut installation time from four hours to 30 minutes. It's also meant to be more attractive and look like a skylight.

Sharp Solar, the largest solar panel maker in the world, has started to promote a pre-fab solar system to the U.S. market.

Ultimately what we need are photovoltaic shingles or tiles so that putting a new roof on a house installs photovoltaic materials. That would make most of photovoltaic installation cost just part of the existing cost of roofing installs.

Increasing demand for solar power,engineered by governments, has kept solar prices stable over the last 12 months. Prices have stayed close to $5-6/watt.

In 2005, silicon solar cell production was measured at 1.7 Gigawatts (GW) globally. That number is expected to grow to 10 GW by 2010. At the same time the electronic sector is growing at a five percent annual rate.

Another source shows solar module prices have risen about 11 percent in the last 3 years. That's a little higher than the overall rate of inflation. So we are not on a downward trend in solar photovoltaic prices. Government-engineered increase in demand (especially in Germany which accounts for half of all photovoltaic demand

Most of the decline in photovoltaics prices occurred before 1987. But this latest surge in demand for solar, especially in Germany, is driving a big increase in manufacturing capacity. Costs should drop once production capacity catches up with government-caused increases in demand.

If a photovoltaics manufacturer achieves a really big breakthrough in costs we should see a much more rapid increase in manufacturing capacity and a big drop in prices.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2007 October 06 09:05 PM  Energy Solar

Engineer-Poet said at October 7, 2007 4:36 PM:

If SRI is right about the cost of their sodium-reduction process for silicate, the silicon for PV may soon cost around 3¢/W(peak).  More on this on The Oil Drum when the editors decide to post it.

BBM said at October 8, 2007 10:53 AM:


Is that 3 dollars/watt or is it 3 cents per watt?

Nick said at October 8, 2007 4:24 PM:

Nanosolar claims to be starting their 400MW/yr production line right about now, and contracting to sell their cells for $.99/W. Thin-film competitors say that they can match that.

We'll see very soon.

Engineer-Poet said at October 8, 2007 5:48 PM:

Three cents a watt.  Multiply by ten for the rest of the panel, and you're talking about 3 watts for a buck.

Nick said at October 9, 2007 8:08 AM:

It looks like Industrial/Commercial (especially commercial) rooftops are taking off faster than residential. Big box retailers are falling all over themselves to install PV.

Engineer-Poet said at October 10, 2007 9:08 PM:

The article has been up since Monday on TOD.

Any development which makes PV cheap is likely to spark a trend like the ones seen for cell phones and personal music players.  It's too expensive now to be fashionable except among the rich, but that is going to change.

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