Solar costs: a breakdown over time?

Solar costs have deflated by 75% in the past decade to around $1,000/kW. 60% has been the scale-up to mass manufacturing, and 40% has been rising efficiency of solar modules. Materials costs now look likely to dominate future costs and their trajectory. And advanced materials can help double efficiency again from here? Who benefits?

Solar costs have deflated from $4,000/kW to $1,000/kW in the decade from 2012 to 2022, as measured at utility scale solar projects, using our solar bill of materials, and global commodity price databases.

60% of solar cost deflation in the past decade has come from the scale-up to mass manufacturing: as solar installations scaled up by 7x to well over 200GW per year, manufacturing fell from 50% to 18% of the total installed costs of a utility-scale project.

Efficiency gains drove the other 40% of the deflation, as the average solar panel in 2022 produces 2.5x more power than in 2012, with efficiency rising from 15% to 23% and module size rising from 1.7m2 to 2.7m2.

Solar costs over time
Solar module size in m2, module efficiency in percent and module output in Watts over time

Efficiency gains are the best form of deflation, because they lower the per kW costs of all fixed cost line items, from permitting to installation. Including materials costs. When a similar amount of material per module — sometimes even more material per module — delivers more kW of power, this reduces the cost of materials in $/kW terms.

Solar costs over time
Materials use over time in solar modules

Our analysis into changing solar cells suggests that higher grade materials and manufacturing processes can potentially double solar efficiency again from here, and we wonder if this creates large opportunities for advanced materials and manufacturing technologies (research note here).

The data-file also aggregates similar breakdowns of materials, manufacturing and installation costs for other new energies, such as wind and batteries, in order to draw some useful comparisons and contrasts.

new energies costs
New Energies materials and manufacturing as percent of total cost

Solar costs over time are also disaggregated across 45 lines in the data-file, including input variables that can be flexed, to stress-test different scenarios for future solar costs.

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