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March 10, 2011

Solar shipments up, prices down

The U.S. photovoltaic (PV) industry hit a record high in 2009, shipping nearly 1,300 peak megawatts (MWDC[1]) of PV cells and modules, an increase of nearly 30% over 2008. Government stimulus funding helped drive the increased 2009 shipments. Although demand for solar cells/modules increased greatly, overall profit margins decreased significantly, compared with 2008.

Over the same period, the average price for photovoltaic solar cells dropped 34%, from $1.94 (per peak WDC) to $1.27. For modules, the price per peak WDC decreased 20%, from $3.49 in 2008 to $2.79 in 2009.

During 2010, trade press reports showed continuing increases in manufacturing and further price decreases. It is important to note, when making any comparisons, that trends in "wholesale" manufactured-unit prices ($/WDC) may not be immediately reflected in the retail prices of installed PV systems. A December 2010 study by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory showed no change in installed costs between 2008 and 2009, but their preliminary data showed that average installed costs declined significantly during 2010.

1 DC stands for direct current, the type of power output by photovoltaic cells and modules. Installed solar systems include an inverter to convert the DC power to AC (alternating current), the type of power used in homes and on the grid. Downrating from DC to AC varies by installation, but typically implies costs that are about 20-25% higher when expressed in AC rather than DC.