Clean Power

Published on September 4th, 2014 | by Zachary Shahan


13 Charts On Solar Panel Cost & Growth Trends

September 4th, 2014 by  

The following charts on solar panel cost trends and solar power growth trends are fun, and good for a share, since many people are completely unaware of these trends.

Of course, to get a very specific cost of solar panels estimate for your own home, you can just spend about 60 seconds answering a few question at the link above and we can hook you up with this in a jiffy. (A completely free process, of course.)

But, if you’re just interested in some general information on solar panel cost and growth trends, look no further — we’ve got the goods right here:

13 Cost of Solar Panels & Cost of Solar Power Charts &Graphs

1. The average cost of solar cells has gone from $76.67/watt in 1977 to just $0.74/watt in 2013. [Update: PVinsights shows the average price of a solar module at $0.49/watt on July 15, 2016, and the average price of a solar cell at $0.26/watt.]

price of solar power drop graph Cost of Solar Panels 10 Charts Tell You Everything

Well, that basically tells you everything you need to know right there — the cost of solar panels in 2013 was about 100 times lower than the cost of solar panels in 1977 (even more than 100 times lower!) — but I promised 10 charts, so let’s dig in even further and throw on some other fun charts and graphs.

2. What is really important is that the cost of electricity from solar panels is now lower than the cost of retail electricity for most people.

disruptive solar Cost of Solar Panels 10 Charts Tell You Everything

That’s big! That means that people like you and me (if we have a roof) can cut our electricity costs by putting solar panels on our roofs! This is why major companies like Walmart, IKEA, Google, Apple, Facebook, Costco, Kohl’s, Macy’s, Staples, and many others are starting to go solar in a big way.

Of course, as you can see in that graph above, the cost of solar is headed towards the wholesale cost of electricity from natural gas… which would actually get utility companies and power plant developers switching to solar in a big way. (The cost of solar power actually varies quite a bit from place to place, and solar has crossed those lines in some locations.)

3. Here’s another look at the falling cost of solar panels (or, as the industry often calls them, solar modules), focusing on the years 1985–2011 (the price has continue to follow the trend through today):

solar pv cost trend Cost of Solar Panels 10 Charts Tell You Everything

4. Are you actually interested in the cost of installed solar power systems? And even perhaps the cost of installed solar power systems by sector? Here’s a chart on that, for the US [update: I’ve replaced a Q1 2014 chart with one from Q1 2016]:

solar power installed prices


5. Are you interested in seeing how the cost of solar panels compares to the cost of its main competitor? If so, have a look at this comparison between the cost of solar and the cost of electricity from gas- and diesel-fired peaking power plants [a newer chart from the same source replaced the original chart on July 15, 2016]:

Lazard Solar Wind LCOE 2

6–10. Are you interested in seeing how much solar panels save the average American who goes solar … or the average person in sunny states like California, Florida, New York, Texas, Hawaii, and so on? Below are two infographics on just that. Just note, however, that these averages are based on the cost of solar panels in 2011 (as I think you’ve gathered by now, the cost has dropped considerably since then).

solar power savings Cost of Solar Panels 10 Charts Tell You Everything

How Much Does Solar Power Cost Cost of Solar Panels 10 Charts Tell You Everything

10–12. So, with all of this information on the drop in the cost of solar panels and the cost of solar-generated electricity, you’re probably thinking that solar power project growth should be going through the roof by now, right? Indeed, it is [charts were updated on July 15, 2016, to be much more up to date]:


Annual installations, via International Energy Agency.


Cumulative solar power capacity, via Charlie Cook.

Solar price drop vs global solar power annual installations, via BNEF.

Solar price drop vs global solar power annual installations, via BNEF.

13. And perhaps my favorite solar power graph, this one is titled “Welcome to the terrordome!”

solar graph welcome to the terrordome

So, what’s the lesson today?

The lesson is: the cost of solar panels has fallen off a cliff, and that means that solar power now crushes electricity from the grid for a huge number of people. If you have a roof and don’t have solar panels on it, stop wasting your time and see what the cost of solar is and how much you can save right now!

Source: Cost Of Solar. Reproduced with permission (with updates/modifications).

Check out our new 93-page EV report.

Join us for an upcoming Cleantech Revolution Tour conference!

Tags: , , , ,

About the Author

is tryin' to help society help itself (and other species) with the power of the typed word. He spends most of his time here on CleanTechnica as its director and chief editor, but he's also the president of Important Media and the director/founder of EV Obsession, Solar Love, and Bikocity. Zach is recognized globally as a solar energy, electric car, and energy storage expert. Zach has long-term investments in TSLA, FSLR, SPWR, SEDG, & ABB — after years of covering solar and EVs, he simply has a lot of faith in these particular companies and feels like they are good cleantech companies to invest in.

  • David H

    Awesome collection.

  • The thing regarding the cost is irrelevant now. You can save every month with no money down on installation. That means that based on the budget you have now without any money out of pocket, in a couple months from now, you can have a state of the art system on your roof at no cost and save the very first month. Solar energy is cheaper than any other resource we have. The problem as a home owner has always been the upfront cost which now doesn’t exist. You call the company, they design the system so your home or business looks sharp and not home made. You save the very first month. So it’s like getting paid to have solar power. It’s a no brainer.

  • Ajay

    Money is only one small part…… the free ride that all other power sources are enjoying….. unaccounted cost of pollution to health, environmental damage and open ended nuclear waste liabilities must be included for a fair comparison…… suggest you change all your charts when you compare solar with “other” energy sources… and then watch the fun…!!!!

  • Don Miller

    Good article but slanted in the sense that there’s no mention of ongoing maintenance on panels or deterioration of solar panels over time nor the life expectancy of panels exposed to sun, rain, ice, snow and bird droppings.

    • Bob_Wallace

      Maintenance is almost nothing. Panels in rainy areas generally aren’t’ cleaned. In dry, dusty areas there are now robots doing the job and that should be very inexpensive.

      Panel failure rates are very low. One study had a < 2% panel failure rate over 20+ years. Newer panels should have even lower failure rates due to better connection boxes and lamination (the reasons for failure).

      Panel deterioration is low. The NREL states that panels manufactured post the year 2000 should lose no more than 0.4% output per year. Much lower in places with lower UV rates and the absence of high wind/snow loading.

      We simply don't know how long solar panels will last. The earliest installed array is now about 40 years old. At age 35 the panels were taken down and tested under lab conditions. They had lost an average of 0.1% per year. 96.1% of original output after 35 years.

  • Joseph Falco

    What happens when there is no sun? How I get heat?

    • Bob_Wallace

      Rub two sticks together and burn your coffee table.

      (Or were you asking a serious question/)

  • rabak omaba

    Why pay a huge amount like $1000’s for utilization of solar or wind power when you can have the opportunity to build your own home made solar system for less than $200. You can Learn more on website – i n p l i x . c o m

  • No doubt Solar power generation cost has come down ,how about solar cell Efficiency?
    Dr.A.Jagadeesh Nellore(AP),India

    • It’s going up, but silicon solar hasn’t on the market much. First Solar’s thin-film solar has, and some high-efficiency products from SunPower have. I imagine more efficiency improvements will come sporadically in the coming years, while costs continue to fall.

  • MIchael G

    This is all great news, and no one wants solar to completely replace fossil fuels more than I do, but the numbers to achieve that goal are daunting. The logistic growth curve governs population growth and the spread of technology. I tried using it for solar and the numbers are so tiny compared to the total electricity used on earth that the logistic equation can’t give anything meaningful.

    So I tried exponential growth to the 50% level which is when the growth starts tapering off using the logistic eqn. Assuming doubling every 2 years(41% growth), with solar generation of 128 GWh in 2012 and current global usage of 840 TWh (840,000 GWh) I get 20 years (2032) to get to the 50% level. Actually longer, because global electricity usage is growing as well. Not bad, but not as soon as I’d hoped. We need to reduce GHG emissions by 80% from 2010 levels by 2050 to stop global warming from accelerating.


    • Bob_Wallace

      I think the IPCC says 40% to 70% by 2050. That’s 40-70% from 2005 levels. Let’s stick with the US for the moment.

      In 2005 we obtained 71.9% of our electricity from fossil fuels (coal, NG, petroleum).

      In 2013 we obtained 67.5% of our electricity from fossil fuels. So that’s 6% out of the way.

      To be safe let’s go for the big number – 70%. We’ve got 64% to go over the next 35 years. If we cut a solid 1.8% per year we’re there – down 70% by 2050.

      From 2013 to 2014 we moved about 1% from fossil fuels to wind. I suspect we’ll keep increasing wind installation rates and solar should easily get over 1% per year. 1% from wind + 1% from solar + some extra from geothermal, hydro, tidal and biofuel and we’re heading for home.

      And, for the US and a lot of the rest of the developing world, electricity consumption is slowing/falling thanks to efficiency.

  • sivadasan

    Find a Swanson chart up to 2014. Cost of module is shown as $0.36/W. Is it a reliable information?

    • Bob_Wallace

      I’ve not seen any claims of manufacturing costs below ~ $0.50/W.

      The source for the Forbes chart is Bloomberg which is generally reliable.

      First Solar (thin film) has stated that they expected their costs to drop to the mid-thirty cent range by 2017. If someone has manged to get there sooner, that’s great.

      • sivadasan

        Thanks Bob

  • CaptD

    Utilities love wind since it allows them to profit from “renewables” while at the same time keep their ratepayers as their energy slaves, since the ratepayers are not using rooftop solar which gives them the ability to generate their own Energy for free (after initial payback) for 30 plus years…

    So look to Utilities to keep their future Utility Energy costs just slightly above the cost of adding solar to one roof, since that will maximize Utility profits and minimize the number of ratepayers that install their own Solar!

    The one great unknown is if new battery/storage technology will “overnight” change the above calculations since low cost batteries could be yet another reason to keep what you generate, instead of adding it to the Grid, something that Utilities would fight tooth and nail because it would reduce the amount of their profits.

    • SaniK

      I hope a future president will come forward and challenge the power companies as well as invest more taxpayer monies into solar and other renewable energy.

      • CaptD

        SaniK – You can be sure the Old School BIG Energy Donors (especially Coal & Nuclear) will try and nip that in the bud, since that will reduce their hold upon their ratepayers (aka Their Energy Slaves).

  • Mike333

    What I see is smart money will soon de-carbonize.
    America needs a good NonCarbon-Index Fund. The whole market – carbon, because carbon is on a fast track to bankruptcy, and why should your index fund hold on to Clear Losers.

  • JamesWimberley

    The Swanson chart (1) would be be more readable at the right-hand end – where we are now – with a log scale. Chart 3, which is linear, shows that current module prices are not in a cyclical pit but exactly on the medium-term trend,

    • Matt

      Many people don’t get log scale. So would be better to keep (1) and add a (1a), that starts at 2000 and resizes vertical axis to see continued progress.

  • Don Diedrick

    Very important article.Note remarkable Hawaii situation on charts,BUT,difficulty obtaining utility interconnect here.Public Utility Commission pressure is being applied,while PV customers wait!

  • J

    Most data in the graphs stops at 2011. This means it is already 3 years old and obsolete in an industry that changes very frequently—but that is good news. All the numbers are probably better for solar than is otherwise shown.

    • Yeah, everything should be even better, but I haven’t seen comparable graphs for more recent years.

  • Matt

    Chart 9 (4 sub charts) don’t add up.
    (saving/month)*12*(years to payback) = saving thru payback
    OH $73*12*9= $7,884 vs cost $15,916
    CA $143*12*9=$15,444 vs cost $10,192
    Mass $57*12*4= $2,736 vs cost $7,061
    Ky $61*12*19=$13,908 vs cost $19,447
    So something doesn’t add up.

    • bzNess

      You’re making a wrong assumption about what payback means and where savings occur. If you calculate savings over the warranted life span of the system – most systems are 25-30 year warranties (meaning the panels will not dip below 80% their rated value). Thus, once your system is paid off in say 12 years, it’s free energy from that point until the warranty period (and in reality, it’ll likely last for decades after that – so you are saving more than you think). I’ve already calculated the cost in Iowa for a real system, after less sun days and assuming laziness, and the cost to me is around $20K (grid connected).. I would use 900kWh per month on average, and at a cost of local power comes to 10.4 cents per kWh = $93.60 / month or : $1123.20/year.. $20k for system / $1123.20 = 17.8 years it’s paid off. Everything after is free, and warranted for at least another 7.2 years – or a net gain of: $8087.04 (in reality it will last longer and save much more)

  • Doug Cutler

    Hey, I count 14 charts and graphs!

    Nice work, Zachary.

    • Bernard Finucane

      According to the headline, there must be at least two tons of charts, so these weigh at least 285.714 lbs a piece.

    • Emma Spare

      I am reading already about homemade panels for less than 200$ – check inplix com

Back to Top ↑