Solar PV Systems Shine On

Solar PV Systems Shine On

Solar energy has finally come of age. The options for solar modules, inverter styles and leasing packages have expanded—and the competition is fierce.
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Solar cells and modules, or panels, have come a long way in the past ten years.

Green Builder Media

Thursday, July 2, 2015 - 8:45am

CAMPAIGN: Ethical and Sustainable Living

CONTENT: Article

Two major trends define the residential photovoltaic (PV) solar market: dramatic price declines and rampant growth. Since 1998, the installed cost of solar photovoltaic (PV) systems has fallen each year by an average of 6 to 8 percent, according to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. A staggering 6.2 GW of solar capacity was added in 2014, a number which includes commercial and utility installations.

Numerous market factors have converged to make solar electricity more attractive to homeowners. Solar panel prices declined by $2.70/watt from 2008 to 2013, while the average cost per kilowatt-hour of retail electricity in the U.S. rose by $.03 from 2004 to 2014, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, or EIA.

Third party-owned systems (solar leases and power purchase agreements) have become extremely popular in the last few years by making solar systems more affordable and appealing for homeowners unable to pay the upfront cost of solar or unable to utilize the 30 percent federal tax credit. The popularity of such arrangements is starting to decline as capital markets embrace solar energy, offering more competitive rates and loan terms, thus boosting ownership.

The following companies are leaders in the field, offering innovative products and services that will help shape the future of the industry as it matures.

Solar Panels

Solar cells and modules, or panels, have come a long way in the past ten years. Most modules utilize silicone-based mono- or polycrystalline cells. Monocrystalline cells utilize a purer form of silicon; they’re more efficient and more expensive than polycrystalline cells. Newer PERC (Passivated Emitter Rear Cell) technology is enabling panels with efficiencies over 20 percent. These cells maximize the electrical gradient across the p-n junction (the boundary between the two types of silicon where electrical activity takes place), which allows for a steadier flow of electrons, reduction in electron recombination and higher efficiency levels. Panels with PERC technology are significantly more expensive.

In general, greater efficiencies have allowed panels to shrink in size, and the price of panels has dropped significantly. The market landscape for solar panels has shifted with the U.S. Commerce Department imposing an anti-dumping tariff last year on Chinese and Taiwanese solar panel imports, with only a few months’ notice. This action is creating uncertainty while encouraging greater geographic diversity in the supply chain.