There has been a lot of decrement in the price of solar panels in US but the Energy Department (DOE) wants to bring the price even lower. Studies show that every rooftop in US is covered with solar panels then it can meet nation’s 40 percent energy demand. The DOE has set an ambitious goal of making solar power costs 5 cents per kilowatt-hour by 2030.
Right now, the biggest problem in curbing solar panel costs is the “soft costs” involved in solar installations. The soft costs are supply chain costs, labor, and sales plus marketing.
The two opportunities to install rooftop solar panels can be segmented into installing PV during a rooftop replacement and installing PV as a new home construction process. We can assume that all the rooftop installer would start selling low-cost solar-integrated roof tiles before 2030. This is a visionary idea as it curbs the supply chain, installation labor and permission costs.
Does this plan sound familiar?
The reason is that Elon Musk run company Tesla has claimed last year that integrated solar cells and roof-top tiles would make sense to the consumer. If the consumer is looking for replacing the roof anyway, then the new costs can sound profitable to any family.
But some calculations show that without net metering or state tax credit, the system will actually cost more than installing solar panels on rooftops. Then, why NREL says that integrated rooftop tiles are the best visionary way out?
The answer is that the market for solar roof products is promising and it is also one of the few areas where solar cost can be reduced with innovation. Some investment in research to increase the efficiency of integrated rooftop products will increase the chances of sales while cutting off the “soft costs”.
Still, without much innovation in integrated solar equipment, the price of solar panels could fall. Products like CertainTeed’s solar shingle and GAF’s solar panels are breaking the division between roof and solar panel installation.
Currently, all the soft costs are incurred twice when a new roof is built and then solar is built over that. If in the long run, the companies can build supply networks that incur the costs only once, the average price of installation would fall significantly.
Recently Trump has imposed 30% extra tariff on imported solar panels and that would increase the cost of residential solar panels by 3 percent.
Looking at the uncertainty of government policies on market, NREL offers a less aggressive way in which the companies don’t need to integrate the tiles. The cost reduction will come by developing a mature supply chain, distribution channels and support service etc. By the end of 2030 this will cut the costs significantly.
But for residential solar projects, each project is unique and that’s why it’s hard to find economies of scale in individual projects unless bought in bulk. Looks like cost reduction can be done in the future only by further research and innovations.