The installed price of solar power has dropped even more in states such as Massachusetts, where incentives for renewable energy have placed the state ahead of the rest of the country in solar deployments.
According to the Lawrence Berkeley Lab study, the market for photovoltaic power in the United States is, to a significant extent, driven by national, state, and local government incentives, including up-front cash rebates, production-based incentives, renewables portfolio standards and federal and state tax benefits.
For example, the price for solar power deployments in Massachusetts now costs on average of $4 per watt, down from $12 in 1998, according to Carrie Cullen Hitt, senior vice president of state affairs for the Washington-based SEIA.
While Massachusetts is ranked 44th in size among the other 50 states, the Bay State is ninth in solar energy deployment, mostly due to aggressive state government incentive programs.
A solar power farm next to Route 495 in Southboro, Mass.
To date, Massachusetts corporations have deployed 200 megawatts of solar power and utilities have deployed another 50 megawatts, according to Hitt. Yet, solar power still only makes up about 1.5% of the state's 13,000 megawatts of power generation.
At the federal level, the IRS's Investment Tax Credit (ITC) is still considered the big dog among incentive programs for using renewable energy. While not specific to renewable energy, the ITC offers companies a 30% tax credit for renewable power investments.
Just seven years ago, deploying a one-megawatt solar array was considered a huge accomplishment. Companies today, however, are regularly deploying systems that 100 times larger, according to the Shugar.
For example, Apple last year completed a 100-megawatt solar farm for its North Carolina data center. A fuel cell facility capable of storing five megawatts of electricity will support the solar farms.
At full capacity, Apple's data center will draw about 20 megawatts of power.
"While we'll produce 60% of the power used by our Maiden data center onsite, we'll meet the remaining 40% of our energy needs by directly purchasing clean, renewable energy generated by local and regional sources," said Apple spokesman Nick Leahy.