NREL Tracks PV and Energy Storage Prices in Volatile Market
Two Cost Benchmark Metrics for PV and Energy Storage Systems Account for Technological Development in the Context of Market Volatility
The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) has released its annual cost breakdown of installed solar photovoltaic (PV) and battery storage systems. U.S. Solar Photovoltaic System and Energy Storage Cost Benchmarks, With Minimum Sustainable Price Analysis: Q1 2022 details installed costs for PV and storage systems as of the first quarter (Q1) of 2022.
Prices soared throughout the U.S. economy between Q1 2021 and Q1 2022, for the PV and energy storage markets in particular. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic caused or complicated supply chain constraints, and industry-specific events and trade policies drove up PV and battery prices.
Such volatility poses a challenge for capturing representative PV and storage costs. NREL's benchmark report, published annually since 2010, is meant to help the U.S. Department of Energy's Solar Energy Technologies Office track long-term technology and soft cost trends so that research and development can be focused on activities with the highest impact on increasing efficiency while managing costs. For this reason, the Q1 2022 report is the first of these annual reports to use two types of benchmarks to help distinguish the impacts of short-term market distortions from the impacts of longer-term technology trends.
Two Benchmark Types Help Distinguish Long-Term PV Trends From Short-Term Market Impacts
The two types of benchmarks in the new report are the minimum sustainable price (MSP) and the modeled market price (MMP). MSP is a theoretical national-average cash price under long-term market conditions. In this report, MSP excludes short-term cost distortions impacting the market in Q1 2022. In contrast, the report's MMP is an estimate of the national-average cash sales price under market conditions occurring in Q1 2022, consistent with NREL's previous benchmarks.
"NREL's addition of the MSP benchmark in 2022 reflects our primary goal of clarifying long-term PV technology and soft cost trends to inform research and development investments," said Vignesh Ramasamy, lead author of the report. "It is imperative to understand what goes into the cost categories that add up to the final system costs for both benchmark types."
For more context on the benchmark types, the chart below provides a concrete example comparing MSP and MMP for a residential PV system. Differences between the two benchmarks stem from different input parameters. Taking each of the component costs in turn: For the PV module, MSP is based on an NREL MSP model and excludes tariffs and short-term supply/demand dynamics, whereas the module MMP, based on third-party analyst data, includes costs from tariffs and supply/demand market dynamics. The inverter MSP is based on an average cost trend (excluding distorted 2022 costs) and no tariff impacts, whereas the inverter MMP is based on 2022 costs with tariff impacts. Similarly, the balance of system (BOS) MSP is based on an average cost trend that excludes 2022 costs, and the BOS MMP is based on 2022 costs. Soft cost input parameters are the same for MSP and MMP.
Two Ways To Look at PV System Price in 2022
The next chart shows NREL's MSP and MMP PV benchmarks across the residential, commercial, and utility-scale sectors. Discrepancies between benchmark types are similar for all sectors, at 13%–15%, representing the impact of either excluding (MSP) or including (MMP) inflationary market and policy distortions. Although not shown in the chart, the differences between MSP and MMP are similar for standalone storage and PV-plus-storage systems as well.
MSP vs MMP for Standalone PV Systems in Q1 2022
Because the methods used to develop the 2022 MMP benchmarks are similar to the methods used to develop NREL's benchmarks in 2021, many of those results can be compared across years. The Q1 2022 MMP PV, storage, and PV-plus-storage benchmarks are 2%–12% higher than comparable Q1 2021 benchmarks in real dollars. These differences could be considered estimates of the increase in national-average system sales prices between Q1 2021 and Q1 2022.
Industry Data and Bottom-Up Cost Modeling Inform Both Types of Benchmarks
The MSP and MMP benchmarks are both based on NREL's ongoing collection of industry data and its bottom-up cost modeling. The data include representative PV and storage system specifications based on industry trends as well as feedback from stakeholders. This year, the authors of the report interviewed 21 stakeholders, including third-party research organizations; PV installers and integrators; engineering, procurement, and construction (EPC) developers; advocacy groups; intergovernmental organizations; and government agencies.
Bottom-up modeling accounts for all system and project development costs incurred during installation, including typical installation techniques and business operations. Hardware costs reflect the purchase price of components as well as the sales price paid to the installer, including profits. The results are broken down by cost category to illustrate which system components may be driving prices and to identify opportunities for price reductions.
From these same data and modeling approaches, the MSP and MMP benchmarks are differentiated by identifying cost distortions from short-term market and policy conditions and then including or excluding distorted cost inputs, as described above.
"The MSP and MMP benchmarks are simplified tools for analyzing the complex and diverse evolution of PV and storage technologies in the United States," said Jarett Zuboy, a report coauthor. "We will continue to refine these benchmarks in subsequent reports, and we welcome feedback on our methods and results from stakeholders."