PV project life increase and OpEx drop contribute to 80% LCOE fall
Source: Berkeley Lab.
The useful life assumption for utility-scale solar parks has changed significantly between 2007 and 2019, adding roughly 10 years of operation, while lifetime operating expenditures (OpEx) estimates have halved.
This is according to new research from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab), which surveyed US solar industry professionals and other sources to see how these cost factors developed. It points out that without the increase in solar project life and OpEx drop, the average levelised cost of energy (LCOE) of utility-scale photovoltaic (PV) projects in 2019 would have been 43% higher.
Berkeley Lab’s research shows the solar project-life assumptions of developers, sponsors, long-term owners, and consultants have jumped to an average of around 32.5 years in 2019 from an average of around 21.5 years in 2007. At present, assumptions range from 25 years to more than 35 years. Seventeen of 19 organisations from which the lab got data use 30 years or more.
The levelised, lifetime OpEx estimates for solar, on the other hand, have fallen to an average of USD 17 (EUR 15.2) per kWDC-yr for large parks built in 2019, from an average of USD 35/kWDC-yr for projects in 2007. OpEx costs in the study include scheduled and unscheduled maintenance, operations personnel, land lease costs, property taxes, and other ongoing operations costs.
Across 13 sources, average lifetime OpEx for solar farms built in 2019 ranged from USD 13 to USD 25/kWDC-yr.
The LCOE of utility-scale PV in the same period has plunged by more than 80%. Berkeley Lab says it contracted to an average of USD 51/MWh for projects built in 2019 from an average of USD 305/MWh for parks built in 2007-2009. While a significant portion of the reduction is a result of falling up-front capital expenditures (CapEx), the project life increase and OpEx drop were responsible for about USD 22/MWh of the LCOE decrease.