Characteristics of Low-Priced Solar Photovoltaic Systems in the United States

Eric OShaughnessy, Gregory Nemet, Ryan Wiser, Naim Darghouth, Galen Barbose, Ken Gillingham, Varun Rai

Research output: NRELTechnical Report


Despite impressive recent cost reductions, there is wide dispersion in the prices of installed solar photovoltaic (PV) systems. We identify the most important factors that make a system likely to be low priced (LP). Our sample consists of detailed characteristics for 42,611 small-scale (< 15 kW) PV systems installed in 15 U.S. states during 2013. Using four definitions of LP systems, we compare LP and non-LP systems and find statistically significant differences in nearly all factors explored, including competition, installer scale, markets, demographics, ownership, policy, and system components. Logit and probit model results robustly indicate that LP systems are associated with markets with few active installers; experienced installers; customer ownership; large systems; retrofits; and thin-film, low-efficiency, and Chinese modules. We also find significant differences across states, with LP systems much more likely to occur in some than in others. Our focus on the left tail of the price distribution provides implications for policy that are distinct from recent studies of mean prices. While those studies find that PV subsidies increase mean prices, we find that subsidies also generate LP systems. PV subsidies appear to simultaneously shift and broaden the price distribution. Much of this broadening occurs in a particular location, northern California, which is worthy of further investigation with new data.
Original languageAmerican English
Number of pages40
StatePublished - 2016

Bibliographical note

Published by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory: see

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/TP-6A20-65657

Other Report Number

  • LBNL-1004062


  • solar costs
  • solar photovoltaics (PV)
  • solar policy


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