Solar Manufacturing Cost Analysis

NREL analyzes manufacturing costs associated with photovoltaic (PV) technologies, including crystalline silicon, cadmium telluride, copper indium gallium diselenide, perovskite, and III-V solar cells.

These analyses are often based on bottom-up cost models for multiple components along the supply chain, offering a detailed look at cost drivers. The key outputs of these analyses are:

  • Minimum sustainable prices (MSP)
  • Step-by-step and total manufacturing costs for a given process, to identify cost drivers
  • Roadmaps identifying potential pathways for cost reduction.

Minimum Sustainable Price

NREL regularly employs MSP calculations in manufacturing cost analyses. MSP represents the minimum price that would need to be charged for a PV technology at any given time to cover all production and overhead costs and pay investors back at their demanded rate of return.

MSP is neither a market price nor intended to indicate the minimum price achievable for a given technology. Rather, MSP calculations enable "apples-to-apples" comparisons between different technologies and can reveal how market prices compare to the cost to produce a technology.

Bottom-Up Manufacturing Cost Modeling

Many NREL manufacturing cost analyses use a bottom-up modeling approach. The costs of materials, equipment, facilities, energy, and labor associated with each step in the production process are individually modeled. Input data for this analysis method are collected through primary interviews with PV manufacturers and material and equipment suppliers.

This approach enables NREL to estimate step-by-step costs and identify cost drivers for a given material and production process.

Graphic detailing 14-step Czochralski Process. 1: Siemens chunk and fluidized bed reactor (FBR) polysilicon feedstock. 2: Load Siemens chun and FBR granules into crucible. 3: Melting of polysilicon, doping. 4: Introduction of the seed crystal. 5: Beginning of crystal growth.  6: Crystal pulling.  7: Extraction of crystal ingot from puller with some pot scrap left in crucible. 8: Cropping (band sawing) of silicon ingot.  9: Bricking or squaring (band sawing). 10: Grinding and polishing of ingot corners. 11: Gluing to glass substrate.  12: Wafering with diamond wire: 90-100 of kerf loss per cut wafer.  13: Chemical bath to dissolve glue and release wafers from glass. 14: Cleaning, singulation, and inspetion of 160 monocrystalline silicon wafers having a surface area of 244 cm2 per wafer. The net silicon utilization (including all kerf and yield losses, and with crown, tail, and chords recyling) is estimated to be around 16.0 g per wafer.  For a cell efficiency of 21.5%, this would be 3.05 g/W.

NREL researchers consider the full production processes of solar cells and modules when conducting bottom-up cost modeling.

Historical and Future Cost Modeling

Since 2010, NREL has been conducting bottom-up manufacturing cost analysis for certain technologies—with new technologies added periodically—to provide insights into the factors that drive PV cost reductions over time.

NREL also creates roadmaps that illustrate how innovations, increased production volume, and other factors could drive future cost reductions.

Bar chart showing historical, current, and projected decreasing costs and pricing for crystalline silicon modules.
This NREL-developed roadmap suggests pathways to further reduce the cost of silicon solar cells and shows how each manufacturing cost category could evolve over time.


Photovoltaic (PV) Module Technologies: 2020 Benchmark Costs and Technology Evolution Framework Results, NREL Technical Report (2021)

Research and Development Priorities to Advance Solar Photovoltaic Lifecycle Costs and Performance, NREL Technical Report (2021)

Crystalline Silicon Photovoltaic Module Manufacturing Costs and Sustainable Pricing: 1H 2018 Benchmark and Cost Reduction Road Map, NREL Technical Report (2020)

III-V-Based Optoelectronics with Low-Cost Dynamic Hydride Vapor Phase Epitaxy, Crystals (2019)

Find more solar manufacturing cost analysis publications.


Watch these videos to learn about NREL's techno-economic analysis (TEA) approach and cost modeling for PV technologies. They're part of NREL's Solar TEA Tutorials video series.

Approach and Methodology for Techno-Economic Analysis of PV Modules

Cost Modeling for Specific PV Technologies