What is Solar Energy Cost and Data Analysis?

Solar energy cost and data analysis examines technology costs, location-specific competitive advantages, policy impacts on system financing, and detailed levelized cost of energy (LCOE) analyses. It also helps to assess the performance and reliability of solar energy facilities, predict energy output, and increase situational awareness for utility system operators.

Analysis plays an important role in soft costs reduction and advancing domestic manufacturing. Learn more about how soft costs work.

Why is Cost and Data Analysis Important?

Analyzing solar data helps the industry understand how solar energy cost reductions occur over time and helps the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Energy Technologies Office (SETO) identify areas of opportunity where further cost reductions exist. This work includes technoeconomic analysis of photovoltaic (PV) and concentrating solar-thermal power (CSP) technologies; soft costs analysis of electricity markets, solar access, and environmental impact; and analysis of PV integration for grid planning and reliable operation.

Technoeconomic analyses of PV and CSP technologies enables reduction of the levelized cost of energy (the cost of energy of a solar system that is based on the system's installed price), its total lifetime cost, and its lifetime electricity production. These analyses enable SETO to determine research directions that will ultimately make solar energy more affordable for all Americans.

Analysis also helps reduce soft costs. Research in this area develops a better understanding of such issues as the impact of different electricity markets on the growth and value solar,  the barriers to solar adoption, and the valuation and operational performance of solar with energy storage. Other soft cost reductions can come from environmental impact analysis to better understand how solar can have a symbiotic relationship with its environment and effectively mitigate any potential adverse effects.

Additionally, data generated through solar forecasting helps utilities and grid operators better understand when, where, and how much solar power will be produced at any given time. As increasing amounts of solar are added to the grid, forecasting data enables increased grid flexibility and better incorporation of solar into the energy mix.

Analytical and computational tools enable researchers to develop technical solutions to support the range of solar stakeholders and will help SETO reach its goals.

SETO’s Research in Cost and Data Analysis

Much of SETO’s analysis research is conducted by DOE’s National Laboratories, whose analyses of solar technologies enable solar energy’s growth. Two funding programs house the majority of this work:

  • The Solar Energy Technologies Office Lab Call FY19-21 funding program – projects are developing tools to enable better understanding of the solar industry, plan for change and disruption, and identify areas of future technological innovation with increasing customer affordability and improving equitable access.
  • The Solar Forecasting 2 funding program – using data to improve the management of solar power’s variability and uncertainty, enabling its more reliable and cost-effective integration onto the grid.

Additionally, SETO funds the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) to conduct solar techno-economic analysis that examines costs, benefits, risks, uncertainties, and timeframes to evaluate the attributes of solar energy technologies. NREL also releases the Quarterly Solar Industry Update, a presentation of technical trends within the solar industry. Each presentation focuses on global and U.S. supply and demand, module and system price, investment trends and business models, and updates on U.S. government programs supporting the solar industry.

To view specific cost and data analysis projects, search the Solar Energy Research Database.

Additional Resources

Learn more about solar manufacturing and competitiveness research and soft costs research, other solar energy research in SETO, and current and former funding programs.