‘Soft Costs’ Now the Largest Cost of U.S. Solar Installations

by Joshua S Hill.

U.S. Department of  Energy (DoE)  National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) cost of solar chart.
U.S. Department of Energy (DoE) National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) cost of solar chart.

Two reports published by the US Energy Department’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) show that soft costs — such as financing and other non-hardware costs — now make up the largest section of solar installation costs, coming in at 64% of the total price for residential solar energy systems.

The two reports – ”Benchmarking Non-Hardware Balance-of-System (Soft) Costs for U.S. Photovoltaic Systems, Using a Bottom-up Approach and Installer Survey – Second Edition” and ”Financing, Overhead, and Profit: An In-depth Discussion of Costs Associated with Third-party Financing of Residential and Commercial Photovoltaic Systems” — combine to show just how soft costs are becoming an increasingly more important part of solar installations.

“The two new reports, along with previous reports, provide a comprehensive look at the full cost of installing solar, while delineating and quantifying the various contributors to that final cost,” NREL analyst Barry Friedman said.

The first report showed that in the first half of 2012 soft costs represented the majority of all costs — 64% of the total price for a residential system, up from 50% as identified in a previous report conducted in 2012, and similarly high percentages for small and larger commercial installations.

Residential soft cost categories for the first (2010 data) and second (2012 data) editions of the benchmarking study. For the first edition of the benchmarking study, 2010 “all other soft costs” had not been differentiated. For the second edition, we quantified five sub-categories within this broader category.

The second report focused on the five sub-categories identified in the previous report only as ‘other soft costs’ — namely, transaction costs, indirect corporate costs, installer/developer profit, supply chain costs, and sales tax.

This article, NREL: Soft Costs Now Largest Piece Of Solar Installation Costs, is syndicated from Clean Technica and is posted here with permission.

About the Author

Joshua S. HillJoshua S Hill I’m a Christian, a nerd, a geek, a liberal left-winger, and believe that we’re pretty quickly directing planet-Earth into hell in a handbasket! I work as Associate Editor for the Important Media Network and write for CleanTechnica and Planetsave. I also write for Fantasy Book Review (.co.uk), Amazing Stories, the Stabley Times and Medium.   I love words with a passion, both creating them and reading them.

DOE Calls For Lowering The Soft Costs Of Solar

by Zachary Shahan.

SunShot Infographic
DOE SunShot Infographic. Courtesy of U.S. Department of Energy.

The US Department of Energy (DOE) and many others have identified the “soft costs” of solar as the biggest cost barriers that need to be knocked down in order to unleash a true solar revolution in the US. As I’ve noted previously, the soft costs of solar are enormously larger in the US than in the much more mature German solar market, making the overall cost of going solar in Germany about half what it is in the US. The DOE’s response? The SunShot Initiative, which many CleanTechnica writers have covered at one point or another, but none as much as Tina. There’s a lot going on there to bring down the cost of solar in the US, and there are clear successes already, but the DOE is looking for even more applications.

The DOE just sent along an article by the DOE’s solar program manager, Minh Le, as well as a related infographic (below). The article intro, titled “Breaking Down Barriers,” is as follows: “New research shows that the non-hardware “soft costs” of a solar energy system – such as permitting, customer acquisition, and operations – now account for up to 64% of the total price of installing residential solar energy systems in the United States. As the cost of solar panels and other hardware have dropped tremendously, soft costs are soaring. These costs also stand as the greatest barrier to deploying more residential solar energy systems throughout the country. That’s why the Energy Department’s SunShot Initiative is working to lower soft costs in order to make solar energy fully cost-competitive with traditional energy sources by 2020.”

Le goes on to note the progress of SunShot winner EnergySage (which we’ve covered in depth and love) as well as recent winners kWh Analytics and Folsom Labs.

Additionally, Le notes what the SunShot folks are looking for and how easy it is to apply:

In the most recent round of the Solar Incubator program, SunShot announced $10 million to fund outside-of-the-box ideas to lessen solar’s hardware and soft costs. Some of the solutions to tackle this challenge will be driven by software innovations. SunShot is looking for big thinkers, zany creatives, data geeks, app developers, software engineers, and others to devise new approaches to attack soft costs.

Winning applicants could receive up to $500,000 in funding to bring their innovative product or service to the marketplace. Just draft a concept paper that includes a description of your project, summary of qualifications, a short business plan, and other required items and the payoff could be solar’s next  big technology breakthrough.

Since 2007, the SunShot Incubator program has supported 71 projects, with Incubator protégés in the private sector attracting more than $1.8 billion in venture capital and private equity investment. That’s a $16  return for every $1 invested. Your company or idea could be next!

I can’t say how much I’d love it if (another) CleanTechnica reader won a SunShot grant. So, if you think you have a good idea, go for it! And feel free to reach out to me for feedback — a handful of people interested in applying to this program have done so in the past.

This article, DOE Calls For More Support Bringing Down The Soft Costs Of Solar, Could Be You! (+ Infographic), is syndicated from Clean Technica and is posted here with permission.

About the Author

Zachary ShahanZachary Shahan is the director of CleanTechnica, the most popular cleantech-focused website in the world, and Planetsave, a world-leading green and science news site. He has been covering green news of various sorts since 2008, and he has been especially focused on solar energy, electric vehicles, and wind energy for the past four years or so. Aside from his work on CleanTechnica and Planetsave, he’s the Network Manager for their parent organization – Important Media – and he’s the Owner/Founder of Solar Love, EV Obsession, and Bikocity. To connect with Zach on some of your favorite social networks, go to ZacharyShahan.com and click on the relevant buttons.

NREL Software Could Cut Commercial Building Energy Audit Costs 75%

by Silvio Marcacci

simuwatt tablet display image via NREL
simuwatt tablet display image via NREL

These days, there’s an app for pretty much everything. From gaming to home energy management, tasks are done on handheld devices through the cloud. So why are energy audits still stuck on clipboards and pencils?

Good news – by next year, commercial building energy audits will finally join the 21st century thanks to the simuwatt Energy Auditor, a new tablet-based software package developed by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and software company concept3D that could cut audit costs by up to 75%

It may seem like insignificant news, but simuwatt could streamline this laborious process through computer modeling, find new ways to boost energy efficiency, and save commercial buildings millions of dollars every year.

Make Energy Audits More Efficient To Make Buildings More Efficient

Commercial buildings in America represent 7% of the world’s total energy consumption and use roughly $134 billion in electricity to power all those computers, heating and ventilation systems, and lights.

All that power means commercial buildings are huge targets for increased energy efficiency, but until now the process of finding the right upgrades for each building has been inefficient, with audits for many buildings often costing more than potential savings from energy improvements.

Enter simuwatt. Energy auditors will now be able to perform audits on mobile tablets and upload results into cloud-based servers for advanced energy modeling results and recommendations in almost real time. “Its software-guided workflow allows customers to double their audit capacity,” said Oliver Davis, CEO of concept3D. “More audits mean more retrofit work, more revenue, and more efficient buildings.”

Combining The Best Of NREL & DOE Technology

The software seems like a no-brainer, but it’s the result of NREL combining several ideas already in use across federal government facilities. NREL has traditionally conducted audits for the Defense Department, State Department, and National Park Service, and simuwatt combines the best results of years of practice.

For instance, the Department of Energy’s EnergyPlus tool is integrated to run simulations that determine energy flow, while NREL’s OpenStudio combines with concept3D’s geometry capture software to create a detailed 3D model of each building as auditors walk through it to analyze energy savings from potential improvements.

A user could pose the question: “Does it make economic sense to retrofit windows in this building?” The response from simuwatt Energy Auditor might be something like “Yes, if it is more than three stories high and at least 40 years old and if you use these kinds of windows.” If that’s not in the budget, then the user can change one parameter and see what difference it makes for the bottom line.

The software can also help lower solar soft costs through features like assessing the capacity of a roof for adding solar panels or perform additional time-saving tasks like calculating the value of replacing lighting fixtures all in one program, instead of farming work out to multiple contractors.

simuwatt energy audit
simuwatt energy audit image via NREL

Defense Department Testing Before Full Launch

NREL will now test the software in real-world settings by using it to audit 18 buildings across 6 Defense Department bases in Colorado, Texas, California, South Carolina, and Florida.

Once those results are in, analysts will have a better sense of simuwatt’s potential to make auditing and commercial businesses more efficient. and will release the software to the energy auditing industry. “The hope is that by lowering costs, you can not only get deeper savings but also get into more buildings,” said Andrew Parker of NREL.

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This article, NREL Software Could Cut Commercial Building Energy Audit Costs 75%, is syndicated from Clean Technica and is posted here with permission.

About the Author

Silvio Marcacci Silvio is Principal at Marcacci Communications, a full-service clean energy and climate-focused public relations company based in Washington, D.C.

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Cleantech Transition Is Happening, Costs Dropping Off An Icy Cliff

by Cynthia Shahan

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Legislature developments (or rather paralysis) this month are retching. So let’s talk positive in this post. The way American citizens think about energy is in historical transition. We are finally “getting it.” Sane, renewable, commonsense measures to energy are not beyond our grasp anymore. The “maybe in 5 years” complacency stifling progress is over. The status quo subsidies of dirty oil and coal as well as the record of destructive energy extraction are all still with us. Nevertheless, US clean energy is unquestionably growing.

Simple and to the point, the Department of Energy’s Secretary, Dr. Moniz, tells it like it is: “In recent years, costs for numerous critical clean energy technologies — wind power, solar panels, super energy-efficient LED lights and electric vehicles — have fallen significantly. The accompanying surge in deployment has been truly spectacular. Such a surge is tantamount to topping the barricades — a level of cost reduction and market penetration that will enable a full scale revolution in the relatively near term.”

That should all sound familiar to regular CleanTechnica readers, as should the following, but it bears repeating.

Here’s more from Dr. Moniz:

A new Department of Energy report, “Revolution Now: the Future Arrives for Four Clean Energy Technologies” documents this transformation and what it means for America’s energy economy. The clean technology revolution is upon us. While these technologies still represent a small percentage of their respective markets, that share is expanding at a rapid pace and influencing markets.

For instance:

  • In 2012, wind was America’s largest source of new electrical capacity, accounting for 43 percent of all new installations. Altogether the United States has deployed about 60 gigawatts of wind power — enough to power 15 million homes.

  • Since 2008, the price of solar panels has fallen by 75 percent, and solar installations have multiplied tenfold. Many major homebuilders are incorporating rooftop panels as a standard feature on new homes.

  • In that same five years, the cost of super-efficient LED lights has fallen more than 85 percent and sales have skyrocketed. In 2009, there were fewer than 400,000 LED lights installed in the U.S.; today, the number has grown 50-fold to almost 20 million.

  • During the first six months of 2013, America bought twice as many plug-in electric vehicles (EVs) as in the first half of 2012, and six times as many as in the first half of 2011. In fact, the market for plug-in electric vehicles has grown much faster than the early market for hybrids. Today, EVs ranging from the Chevy Volt to the Tesla Model S also boast some of the highest consumer satisfaction ratings in America. And prices are falling and export markets are opening up. Since 2008, the cost of electric vehicle batteries — which really drive the economics of EVs — has dropped by 50 percent.

This report is comprehensive, confirming America’s clear cleantech transformation. Pages of graphs and documents prove our fast-growing green status.

Here are a bunch of additional resources and facts on these matters (links to articles with more information are included on all bullet-point items):

Wind Energy

Wind energy is the fastest growing source of power in the United States, creating jobs opportunities for thousands of Americans and boosting economic growth. In 2012, U.S. wind capacity topped 60 GW, enough energy to power more than 15 million homes.

Residential Solar

The U.S. is on the verge of a major shift to solar energy, putting a clean, renewable energy source within reach of the average American family. In 2012, rooftop solar panels cost about 1 percent of what they did 30 years ago, and deployment is skyrocketing.

Electric Vehicles

Before 2010, there was effectively no demand for electric vehicles. In 2012, Americans bought more than 50,000 plug-in electric vehicles (PEVs). And with battery costs falling more than 50 percent in the last four years, 2013 is set to be another banner year for PEVs. In the first half of 2013, Americans doubled the number of PEVs they purchased compared to the same period in 2012, and last month, PEV sales reached a new record high. More than 11,000 PEVs were sold in August 2013 — that’s a 29 percent improvement in sales over the previous monthly record.

LED Lighting

Unlike traditional incandescent bulbs, LED lighting generates more light than heat and lasts as much as 25 times longer. Once an expensive niche product, LED bulbs are becoming an affordable choice for Americans looking to reduce their electric bills. In 2012, about 49 million LEDs were installed in the U.S. — saving about $675 million in annual energy costs. Switching entirely to LED lights over the next two decades could save the U.S. $250 billion in energy costs and avoid 1,800 million metric tons of carbon pollution.

It is helpful to wander around energy.gov. With so many pages and links, one finds that the government is operating quite positively in the energy arena. Jump into the President’s Climate Action Plan for an even broader overview. Explore and thoroughly enjoy the maps section. Among other maps is an interactive map that highlights the path of Solar Decathlon teams. Explore the map of your town on this site.

Self-education is available in various blogs, articles, reports, and videos regarding: Science, Education, Innovation, Building and Design, Public Services, Science and Technology, and Current Projects — such as the Mars Rover.

One final recommendation I’ll provide from the pages of the DOE is this article: Fish-Friendly Turbine Making a Splash in Water Power. Cool stuff.

Energy.Gov

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This article, Cleantech Transition Is Happening, Costs Dropping Off An Icy Cliff, is syndicated from Clean Technica and is posted here with permission.

About the Author

Cynthia Shahan is an Organic Farmer, Classical Homeopath, Art Teacher, Creative Writer, Anthropologist, Natural Medicine Activist, Journalist, and mother of four unconditionally loving spirits, teachers, and environmentally conscious beings who have lit the way for me for decades.

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