There is considerable variance in calculating the cost of solar energy. Using U.S. Solar Radiation Resource Maps from the National Solar Radiation Data BaseThe (NSRDB) we found the amount of kilowatt-hours (KWH) per days of solar radiation per square-meter varies from less than two for Northern Alaska to six KWH/m2 per day for parts of Arizona. Using these maps we found that the cost of solar varies from $0.23-to-$0.68 per KWH with a mean of approximately $0.45 per KWH. The cost of $0.23 per KWH equates to Arizona and $0.68 per KWH reflects the cost of the lower solar radiation in Anchorage, Alaska. These cost are based on data from solar photovoltaic (PV) supplies before tax benefits or rebates. Please see SunPower (SPWR) and Sharp Solar.
Green Econometrics provided a normalized solar energy cost per KWH of $0.38-to-$0.57 with a mean cost of $0.45 as reference for what most of the U.S. would expect for solar energy. We have referred to the Lewis Group at Caltech which has provided estimates of $0.25-to-$0.50 per KWH for the cost of electric production from solar with a mean of $0.38 per KWH. According to Solarbuzz the average price of solar electric is approximately $0.38 per KWH. The Solarbuzz index is based upon an average of 5.5 hours of sunshine per day over a year, which relates to locations such as the US Sunbelt, Latin America, Africa, the Middle East, India and Australia. With large U.S. populations still residing in the North, we would still expect the average home in the U.S. to be paying closer to $0.45 per KWH.
There are a number of factors to consider such as total system cost, the use of concentrators and tracking systems to align the solar panel to be perpendicular with the sun during the day and the property location. There are factors to consider with property location such as whether the roof is facing south or towards the east or west. If the system rests on the ground, shading from building or trees becomes a factor. Other considerations include latitude, climate, weather, and time of day, season, local landscape, and temperature. The Department of Energy provides some information for home owners considering a solar energy system Small Solar Electric Systems
The cost for solar energy systems refers to the average efficiency of solar photovoltaic (PV) panels. The average efficiency for PV devices is between 15%-to-16%. According to SunPower, which has the leading PV device efficiency of 22% there is a practical limit to solar efficiencies of approximately 30%. SunPower is targeting a 23% solar efficiency as a goal to reduce its solar energy system cost by 50% by 2012. Sanyo is second with solar efficiency of 18%. SunPower claims to have patented solar PV architecture and production processes that enable the company to command a lead in solar efficiency.
For solar energy systems below 5 kilowatts, the cost of the inverters represents a substantial part of the system cost. An inverter is used to convert the direct current (DC) from the solar panels to alternating current (AC) used in your home. Inverters can cost from $400-to-$700 per 1000 watt adding to the total cost of deploying small solar energy systems. See Wholesale Solar