Sharing the Wealth: Providing Access to More Solar Data

Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) recently published the ninth edition of its Tracking the Sun report, a SunShot Initiative-funded summary of trends in the installed price of residential and non-residential solar photovoltaic (PV) systems. The report finds what you would expect of this booming industry: solar energy system pricing is at an all-time low. But what’s also exciting is that this year, for the first time, Berkeley Lab publicly shared the data used in the report analysis, making fully accessible all non-confidential data from the approximately 800,000 solar energy systems tracked in the latest edition of the report.

This now public data includes more than 60 data fields including size, location, date of installation, installed price, equipment specifications, and other details. No personally identifiable information about individuals who own or host solar energy systems is published. The data can be accessed through the National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s Open PV Project, along with a user guide that describes the data sources and data fields.

Making this information public helps solar companies and customers alike. Access to data helps the solar industry lower the cost of capital for new projects. For example, fragmented data limits financing opportunities for solar energy projects by undervaluing payback periods, which makes them less attractive investments. Increased amounts of standardized data allows investors to more accurately value solar investments. In addition, having more data about the performance of solar projects also increases competition among solar companies by giving them motivation to develop new products that are capable of improving cost, performance, and pricing transparency. This makes it more affordable for solar companies to do business and more affordable for Americans to choose solar energy.

In addition, this data helps studies of solar energy move forward, which will further evolve solar energy.  In fact, Berkeley Lab will be collaborating over the next two years with several universities to leverage the data in new and unique ways. They are currently soliciting input from industry participants and stakeholders about potential research topics to explore with this data set.

As the solar industry continues to increase the transparency of data, the SunShot Initiative is working to ensure that happens. Earlier this year, SunShot launched Orange Button, a funding program that works to standardize the way solar data is collected and exchanged. Orange Button will help the Energy Department, Berkeley Lab, and others track industry trends and progress toward SunShot’s cost-reduction goals.

Data transparency extends into SunShot’s work as a whole. With the hundreds of projects that provide funding to private companies, universities, state and local governments, nonprofit organizations, and national laboratories, it is important that the general public has access to information about how taxpayer dollars are being spent. The SunShot project map provides detailed information about nearly 600 awards (both active and completed), including a project description, funding amounts, location of the project, and the year of inception.

With the solar industry’s rapid growth anticipated to continue, increased data transparency will remain an important factor in enabling a safe and robust solar market. Learn more about Tracking the Sun and Orange Button.

This article was originally published by the U.S. Department of Energy in the public domain.

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Caroline McGregor is Acting Soft Costs Program Manager for the U.S. Department of Energy's SunShot Initiative.

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