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Solar PV Balance of System

Despite great advances in solar photovoltaic (PV) technology over the past half-century, it has not been widely adopted for electrical generation. Today only a tiny fraction of U.S. electricity is supplied via solar—well under 0.1 percent in 2009.

The main reason? Cost.

While module costs have come down significantly in the last decade, the “balance of system” costs—all the upfront costs associated with a PV system except the module—remain a barrier to large PV adoption.


An Industry-Wide Approach to Identify and Capture Cost Reductions

In June 2010, Rocky Mountain Institute convened more than 50 industry stakeholders and outside experts to a design charrette. Held in San Jose, California, the event offered a fragmented and multifaceted industry a chance to collaborate on strategies to reduce installed BoS costs for commercial and small utility systems.

Discussions at the charrette identified many opportunities that could offer the potential to reduce balance of system costs to $0.60 - $0.90/watt—a 45 percent to 65 percent reduction over current best practices—in a less-than-five-years timeframe. RMI's report, "Achieving Low-Cost Solar PV: Industry Workshop Recommendations for Near-Term Balance of System Cost Reductions," proposes a number of industry activities to support BoS cost reduction goals through more efficient physical system designs, streamlined business processes, and rapid industry scaling

A dedicated, industry-wide effort is needed now to enable and accelerate cost-reduction opportunities.

 Hear What Participants Had to Say About RMI's Charrette

Next Steps and Key Recommendations

With a relatively young industry and no silver-bullet technology solution, reducing BoS costs is a challenge. Each PV system has unique characteristics, must be individually designed, and is regulated by one of nearly 30,000 local jurisdictions.

Yet many near-term opportunities for cost reduction do exist, primarily related to improving technology, more appropriate regulations, better information and economies of skill and scale.

Press Call

Listen to RMI and industry experts discuss report findings and recommendations.

Press Call

(Running time: 52 minutes)

RMI is collaborating with several stakeholders across the BoS value chain, including the U.S. Department of Energy, PV developers, and BoS component manufacturers, to increase awareness of cost reduction opportunities.

In addition, RMI is working with SolarTech to address the current lack of quantitative knowledge of business process costs, which vary substantially by project size, location, ownership and project phase. Additional analysis of these costs will help solar industry stakeholders align incentives for cost reduction.

Looking beyond the charrette effort, additional cost reductions will be needed to drive the ongoing growth of the solar industry. To reduce solar PV power prices toward future targets ($0.50/watt and below), innovative BoS approaches will be necessary.

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