Researchers at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory have determined that solar installations cost more in the US than in Germany. They verified the total amount of solar power installed in Germany and the US is markedly different – with over five times as much installed in Germany.
Both US and German installers paid about $1.80 per watt for solar panels last year, but German installers added $1.20 to the cost to complete an installation. In sharp contrast, US installers added $4.36 per watt.
The report does note that this may only account for half of the price disparity. Researchers have determined there are fundamental differences in the markets that will keep prices higher in the US unless they are addressed at the root level. The cost of acquiring customers seems to be one of the primary issues. US installers spend nearly ten times the amount German installers spend on marketing and designing custom systems. Case and point, US installers spend 20 cents per watt on marketing while German installers spend 3 cents per watt.
Other reasons for the price disparity include the fact that Germany installers are exempt from sales tax and US installers spend more on actual installation labor and pay more for overhead.
However, as specific as the Berkeley National Laboratory study was, the study could not identify $1.30 of the price difference.
This where the US Department of Energy comes in. The DOE’s SunShot Initiative was created to fund projects focused on reducing non-hardware costs of installed solar systems. One of SunShot’s programs involves spending $12 million to investigate and ultimately cut unnecessary red tape. In early 2012, the DOE announced a $10 million prize for companies that can lower total non-hardware costs of an installation to below $1 per watt. In December 2012, it announced $21 million for the development of a plug-and-play system for solar panels that could reduce installation costs.