American solar installations may be up 40 percent year-over-year, but don’t get excited. That’s still too slow compared to some of its competitors, who are schooling the U.S. in efficiency and investment, mainly by taking a day, or less, to build a solar system.
A recent joint report from Rocky Mountain Institute and Georgia Tech found America wasting more time and money than its more incentivized partners like Germany and Australia, and (predictably) getting less in return for its solar installation labors. And that’s not going to change unless America upgrades its operating system, cleans up its code and pays the necessary fees to set off the sunshine bomb.
“German and Australian efficiency results from simple system designs and installation processes,” RMI senior associate and report co-author Koben Calhoun told me. “Each have specialized systems and techniques to the local market, including relevant electrical and building codes, as well as the building architecture, resulting in high-efficiency, low-cost solar PV installations. Significant incentives in both Germany and Australia resulted in high levels of solar adoption and market maturation, which increased the number of companies providing solar installation services.”
The difference in the Efficiency War is made by what RMI called “non-production activities” and probably even more people would call “what you do when you’re not at your desk.” Everything from counterproductive commutes to worksite disarray to a disorganized employees can slow the installation process to a crawl. And in the case of the United States, it does, more than Germany and Australia.
“Non-production activities consist of time spent onsite that doesn’t directly contribute to the value of the system, producing electricity, but are necessary components of the process, such as driving to the site, cleaning up supplies and breaks,” Calhoun added. “With Australia and Germany installing systems consistently in one day, or multiple systems in one day, non-production activities are a fraction of time and cost onsite. The U.S. takes more than two to four days to install. We believe we can quickly and effectively reduce the total number of days required to install a system, setting the market on course to having one-day installations be the norm.”
Of course, lame blowback could throw that market off course, in underachieving America as well champion Germany and Australia.
Disincentives in Australia’s renewable energy target has already incentivized, if you will, the defection of American solar power plant developer Recurrent Energy, with more promised from international developers if Oz can’t straighten out and fly right. Meanwhile, Germany and America’s solar war with China has destabilized the international market with steeper tariffs and sour business, threatening to “slow the adoption of solar within the United States,” according to the Solar Energy Industries Association.
For now, “we are beginning to see similar specialization and increased efficiency with the growth in the U.S. solar market,” Calhoun concluded, adding that “more recently the increased competition and plunging solar feed-in tariff rates in Germany and Australia has forced PV installers to find new, creative ways to install systems at a lower cost. One of the most straightforward ways to do this is to improve installation efficiency.”
Photo courtesy of RMI and Georgia Tech.