Navigant: Low Prices, Incentives Make Solar an Attractive Choice

by | Apr 12, 2013

New data finds that in 2012, annual worldwide distributed solar photovoltaic system installations fell 11 percent compared to 2011 – dropping to an estimated 19.2 GW representing $65.7 billion in revenue – largely due to drops in Europe, while distributed solar installations grew in the US and China.

The majority of the reductions were attributed to the European Union where uncertainty surrounding feed-in tariff reductions and rule changes to key incentive programs in Germany and Italy reduced installations, according to the Distributed Solar Energy Generation report from Navigant Research.

Distributed solar PV markets in Asia Pacific (led by China) and North America (led by the United States) grew 53 percent and 42 percent, respectively (by annual installation capacity). Distributed solar PV accounted for an estimated 69 percent of all solar PV systems installed in 2012, compared to 71 percent in 2011.

The global electric power industry is evolving from a financial and engineering model that relies on large centralized power plants owned by utilities to one that is more diverse – both in sources of generation and ownership of the generation assets. The following is a list of emerging trends that will shape the trajectory of the distributed solar energy generation market (DSEG), according to Navigant:

  • Price drops: Module costs have dropped from roughly $4 per watt in 2006 to, in some cases, below $1 per watt in 2012. Lower prices are opening up new markets for distributed PV while also helping the technology reach grid parity more quickly in high-cost retail electricity markets.
  • Leasing programs: In DSEG markets, innovative financing options are emerging that will make the technology more available. Solar leasing companies such as SolarCity and SunRun are offering the option to have solar PV installed on rooftops with little to no upfront investment.
  • Governments rein in financial incentives: Like most energy technologies, DSEG is reliant on incentives from the government in some part of the value chain. As DSEG technologies have become more cost-effective, and amid a backdrop of government budget cuts, many governments are reining in popular FITs in leading markets. Germany, Italy, and China have all retooled their FITs, often placing greater emphasis on onsite generation, to prevent an overheated market. The industry is fully aware that lucrative financial incentives will not be around forever. As a result, many companies see 2017 (the year after solar PV investment tax credits expire in the United States) as the year that solar PV will be able to stand on its own without subsidies.

During the forecast period (2013-2018), 220 GW of distributed solar PV will be installed worldwide, representing $540.3 billion in revenue. FITs and the commoditization of PV modules are the two factors creating double- and sometimes triple-digit growth in PV markets worldwide. Even if the EU follows in the footsteps of the United States and adds import tariffs on Chinese solar cells and modules, this will have minimal impact on the installation rate for two main reasons: First, Chinese manufacturers are already ramping up production in Taiwan and other countries to skirt the taxes; and second, solar PV modules and balance of system (BOS) costs will continue their rapid price declines, further diluting the impact of any tariffs.

Ultimately, it is a great time for consumers and end users to purchase or lease distributed solar PV systems as prices continue to fall in the middle of fierce competition and continued consolidation, finds Navigant.

Moreover, the Asia Pacific and the Rest of World (Latin America, the Middle East, and Africa) markets are expected to see dramatic growth during the forecast period that will offset slowed growth in European and US markets.

Navigant Research’s forecast is based on the assumption that PV module prices and installation costs will continue to decline, reaching a global average in the range of $1.76 per watt to $2.47 per watt installed anywhere in the world by 2018. At this price, solar PV will largely be at grid parity, without subsidies, in all but the least expensive retail electricity markets.

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