What is Solar Energy Cost and Data Analysis?

Solar energy cost analysis examines hardware and non-hardware (soft) manufacturing and installation costs, including the effect of policy and market impacts. Solar energy data analysis examines a wide range of issues such as solar adoption trends and the performance and reliability of solar energy generation facilities. Data analysis helps increase situational awareness for diverse audiences including the solar industry, electric utilities, regulators, local and state governments, public interest groups, and academia. The merging of cost analysis with data analysis makes it possible to determine the per-unit levelized cost of electricity (LCOE) that is generated over the operational life of solar energy facilities. Learn more about how soft costs work.

Why is Cost and Data Analysis Important?

Understanding solar energy LCOE reductions occur over time and their impact on rate of solar deployment helps the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Energy Technologies Office (SETO) identify areas of opportunity for further cost reductions and expanded deployment. This work includes technoeconomic analysis of photovoltaic (PV) and concentrating solar-thermal power (CSP) technologies; analysis of electricity markets, solar access, and environmental impact; and analysis of PV integration into the grid to minimize cost while improving resiliency.

Analysis related to soft costs develops a better understanding of 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 combined with energy storage. 

Data generated through improved 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 generation are added to the grid, forecasting data enables increased grid flexibility and increased incorporation of solar power 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

Most of SETO’s analysis research is conducted by DOE’s national laboratories, whose analyses of solar technologies support 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. This work is summarized in an annual PV System Cost Benchmark report. 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.

SETO also funds Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) to conduct solar market analysis that examines factors that influence the deployment of solar photovoltaics in the United States. Two key annual reports are Tracking the Sun, which is focused on small (residential and commercial-scale) PV systems, and Utility-Scale Solar, which is focused on large PV systems (over 5 megawatts alternating current).

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.