There are few better ways of running an electric car than doing so on solar power, and that's now cheaper than ever according to a new report.

The Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory produces an annual "Tracking the Sun" report (pdf file) into the prices of photovoltaic (PV) power systems.

From 2011 to 2012 it shows (via Nation of Change) that prices fell by a full 6-14 percent--a range of between $0.30 and $0.90 per watt.

The price has been coming down ever since 1998, when the first data was gathered. Back then, the price per watt of an installed PV system was around $12. Today, that's come down to $5.30 per watt for systems smaller than 100 kilowatts, and $4.60 per watt for larger systems.

Much of the cost reduction over that period isn't to do with the panels themselves, so much as associated costs--labor, taxes, installer profit, and other hardware such as mounting systems and inverters. Cost also differs between states--California is one of the pricier places to install solar, and its high adoption rate raises the national average price--so in some states, the overall figures could be even lower than the numbers provided.

More recently, the panels themselves have also gone down in cost--falling by around $2.60 per watt from 2008 through 2012.

Installation has risen steeply as a result of these price drops--to the point the report now covers over 200,000 installations, more than 70 percent "of all cumulative grid-connected PV capacity installed in the United States through 2012".

The chances of it continuing at the same rate aren't guaranteed, as the market it still affected by the laws of supply and demand. And for the time being, that hinges on "soft costs"--non-hardware prices, currently influenced heavily by solar subsidies in many countries.

That, and electric car adoption. Several years ago, when electric cars were only just beginning their roll-out, a California Air Resources Board survey found that 39 percent of the 1,419 plug-in car owners questioned had solar panels fitted to their house, and another 17 percent were considering them. The 39 percent figure had remained consistent as of a May 2013 survey by the California Center for Sustainable Energy.

While solar power may not be suitable for EV owners everywhere, demand for solar will only increase in those markets that can, such as the sunnier southern states.

Prices are still coming down too--prices in California have already dropped 10-15 percent in the first half of 2013, according to Nation of Change. Now really is a great time to use our planet's best energy source.


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