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State of SoCal Solar 2012 - Part 1: Overview

08/24/12

  01:36:00 pm, by Jim Jenal - Founder & CEO   , 1151 words  
Categories: All About Solar Power, Solar Economics, SCE/CSI Rebates, SCE, 2012

State of SoCal Solar 2012 - Part 1: Overview

UPDATE - Read Part 2 of our series here: Who’s Hot and Who’s Not?


One year ago we wrote a three-part series analyzing six months worth of CSI data that turned out to be our most read blog posts ever. So back by popular demand, here is our analysis of the first half of 2012 CSI data in the SCE service area.

Methodology

First a brief review of our methodology.  We started by downloading the Working CSI data set dated August 22, 2012.  (Here’s a link to the CSI Working Data download page, and here’s a link to the data set (8MB zip file) that we used for our analysis.)  As we did a year ago, we limited our analysis to just the data from the SCE service area.  To limit our time period to the first half of 2012 (equivalent of what we did last year), we took the latest of a series of milestone dates in the CSI data (from First Reservation Date to First Completed Date) and used that as our Status Date and limited that date to values from 1/1/2012 to 6/30/2012.  Collectively, that accounted for 9,669 projects, an increase of 53% over the same period last year!

So that we can compare apples to apples, our analysis uses CSI AC Watts as the measure of system size (except where noted) instead of the more commonly reported DC or Nameplate Watts.  Why did we do that?  Well, not all 5kW Nameplate Watts systems are the same.  Some systems use less efficient inverters whereas others have panels that have very poor temperature performance (as indicated by their PTC rating), and some sites are poorly oriented or have substantial shading.  CSI AC Watts values take all of those factors into consideration - thereby giving a truer measure of the system’s actual performance.

Overview

Apart from the dramatic jump in the number of projects over the same period last year, how does the overall data for the first half of 2012 compare to that data from last year?  Here’s what we found:

2011 vs 2012 CSI systems

Even though the number of projects increased dramatically from the same time period last year, the potential installed capacity of the projects declined significantly.  This may well reflect the expiration of the federal 1603 Treasury Grant program as it became harder to finance new commercial projects after the first of the year.  Here’s how the averages changed from 2011 to 2012:

Average system data, 2011 vs 2012

The average system size in the 2012 data dropped 46% from the same period in 2011.  Likewise, rebate expenditures per Watt fell from $1.33 to $0.94, or 29%.  At the same time, the system cost per Watt also declined, but far less dramatically, from $6.37 to $6.13/Watt.  We will have more to say about system costs later.

Altogether, the data reflects a total of 519 different solar contractors, of which 213 (41%) were responsible for only one project.

Delisted by Design?

One intriguing item we noted last year was the significant number of projects - a full 11% - that were categorized as “delisted” meaning that they had been cancelled for one reason or another.  How did that number fare in our new data?  It dropped significantly down to just 4.2% of all projects, 6.3% of the potential installed capacity.

Of course, projects can be cancelled for a host of reasons.  Nevertheless, we decided to see if there were any companies that jumped out as having an unusually high rate of delisted projects.  We listed all of the companies that had any projects flagged as delisted (a total of  113 different companies) and compared that to their total number of projects.  We extracted those companies that had ten or more delisted projects and rank ordered them by the percentage of all projects that were delisted.

Here’s what we found:

project delisting by company

Holy smokes, what is going on here?  Either Remodel USA, Herca Solar and A1 Solar Power are really unlucky, or something about how they create projects would seem to be problematic.  We will have more to say on this point in a subsequent post in this series.

Oh and a note to Do-It-Yourself’ers - you have a one in twelve chance of not completing your solar project.  Maybe solar really is something better left to the pros!

Is Bigger Still Better? (Or at least Cheaper?)

We closed Part 1 last year by looking at how the size of a system drives down the cost, and we wondered if the same would hold true this year?  To find out, we excluded delisted projects from our data and divided the remaining projects based on system size with one category being systems below 10kW and the other being between 10kW and 1MW.  (Strangely, we had to exclude some real outliers from our “small” system category - can you believe it, we found systems priced at over $30/Watt?  Again, much more to say about that in a subsequent post.)

Here’s our results for the small system category:

system cost vs system size, 2012 data, systems <10kwOur trend is still downward as system size gets larger, but the slope is not nearly as steep as it was in our corresponding graph last year.  Costs start at $8.59/Watt for the smallest systems and decline to an average of $6.41/Watt for systems just under 10kW.  That’s a rate of decline of $0.24/Watt per kilowatt of system size increase, in constrast to a rate of decline of $0.34 last year. Certainly as component costs decrease, their related economies of scale would likely flatten out and that is what this data appears to be showing.

Finally, then, let’s turn to the “big” systems - those between 10kW and 1MW - how did our system costs do in that group?

system cost vs system size, 2012 data, systems >=10kw

Again, another outlier as our highest system cost here is higher than it was a year ago - $16.50 vs $15.50/Watt.  Overall, we continue to see the downward trend as system size increases, but again, not as pronounced as it was a year ago.  This year, we see the average cost of a 100 kW system coming in just below $6/Watt whereas a year ago the 100 kW benchmark was closer to $6.80/Watt.  So our trend line is lower, but flatter than a year ago.

Moreover, we see far few systems in the 500kW and up category compared to last year.  Specifically, this year we have only 24 projects that crossed that threshold (10.98 MW total capacity), compared to 32 last year (21.6 MW).  Bottom line - projects have gotten smaller and really large projects have dropped off substantially.  Without the pull of those larger systems, it is not surprising that we are not seeing the same downward pressure on costs for larger systems.

Preview of Coming Attractions…

That’s enough to get us started.  Yet to come: whose equipment is hot and whose is not?  Any significant new kids on the block (be they installers or products)?  And who are our outliers this year?  (Hint - you’ve already seen some of those names!)  So stay tuned as we name names and follow the data wherever it may lead!

And of course, if you have thoughts on cuts of the data that you would like to see, please let us know in the comments.

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Jim Jenal is the Founder & CEO of Run on Sun, Pasadena's premier installer and integrator of top-of-the-line solar power installations.
Run on Sun also offers solar consulting services, working with consumers, utilities, and municipalities to help them make solar power affordable and reliable.

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