flexiblefullpage - default
Currently Reading

Big Solar Outpacing Rooftop Installations

Big Solar Outpacing Rooftop Installations

Individual rooftop installations just can't compare to larger solar systems that sell electricity directly to utilities.

By David Malone, Associate Editor August 10, 2016
This article first appeared in the August 2016 issue of Pro Builder.

Solar power is, pardon the pun, having its moment in the sun. This year, for the first time, solar power is expected to contribute more new electricity to the grid than any other source. And while rooftop installations are beginning to grace the tops of more residential and commercial buildings in cities across the country, they are small potatoes when compared with the larger solar systems that sell electricity directly to utilities.

The problem is, even with significant price reductions in the cost of solar panels, individual solar rooftop installations are expensive and require incentives and subsidies to make them viable for most homeowners.

Large systems that sell electricity directly to utilities, on the other hand, benefit from economies of scale and are expected to account for more than 70 percent of new solar added to the grid in 2016 while costing less than other forms of electricity, including rooftop solar installations. Unsubsidized utility-scale solar power, according to Reuters, costs $50 to $70 per megawatt-hour (which equates to 5 to 7 cents per kilowatt hour). Even the most efficient type of gas plant can’t match those numbers dollar for dollar, as gas electricity from an efficient plant still costs $52 to $78 per megawatt hour.

Rooftop installations, meanwhile,  cost between $184 and $300 per megawatt hour before subsidies. The simple act of taking a solar panel from someone’s roof and moving it to a field would significantly decrease the cost of that power. What is lost, however (and what is, possibly, the main reason why many people prefer rooftop panels), is the feeling of independence that accompanies producing your own electricity on-site at home and the fact that power is generated right where it’s needed.

In a 2014 contract between Austin Energy and a 150 megawatt solar plant, the utility purchased power for 5 cents per kilowatt hour, opening a market for utility-scale solar in the Southeastern states. The solar plant provides enough energy to light and cool 30,000 homes for, what was at the time, a record-low price for solar energy—without subsidies.

Which brings us to one of the main differences between large-scale solar and solar on individual rooftops: Large-scale solar is doing well even in markets that lack policies promoting green power.

Rooftop solar manufacturers and installers are taking note of the shift and some are beginning to scale up their services and products, such as developing solar power plants and battery storage systems aimed at utilities.

According to the North Carolina Clean Energy Technology Center, which maintains a database of state renewable-energy incentives, in 2015 as many as 24 states reviewed or made decisions to study the value of rooftop solar, with the aim of more precisely determining what benefits on-site solar delivers beyond the basic cost of power.

Related Stories

Government + Policy

Schumer, Manchin Introduce Bill to Fund and Incentivize Energy-Efficient Construction

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Senator Joe Manchin recently introduced a bill that will provide over $800 million to HUD to improve energy efficiency for affordable housing—here's how that helps and hurts home builders

Energy Efficiency

Energy Efficient Homes Don’t Have to Sacrifice Creature Comforts

Net zero residential construction is evolving to prioritize not just energy efficiency, but also design and livability

Prefab + Panelization

This Bill Gates-Funded Startup Is Building Net-Zero Prefabricated Housing

Prefab startup Vantem is building net-zero homes from highly efficient tiles that cut energy consumption and cost for homeowners

boombox1 -
native1 - default

More in Category

native2 - default
halfpage1 -

Create an account

By creating an account, you agree to Pro Builder's terms of service and privacy policy.

Daily Feed Newsletter

Get Pro Builder in your inbox

Each day, Pro Builder's editors assemble the latest breaking industry news, hottest trends, and most relevant research, delivered to your inbox.

Save the stories you care about

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet lorem ipsum dolor sit amet lorem ipsum dolor sit amet.

The bookmark icon allows you to save any story to your account to read it later
Tap it once to save, and tap it again to unsave

It looks like you’re using an ad-blocker!

Pro Builder is an advertisting supported site and we noticed you have ad-blocking enabled in your browser. There are two ways you can keep reading:

Disable your ad-blocker
Disable now
Subscribe to Pro Builder
Already a member? Sign in
Become a Member

Subscribe to Pro Builder for unlimited access

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipisicing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua.