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Title: The Price-Concentration Relationship in Early Residential Solar Third-Party Markets

Abstract

The market for residential solar photovoltaic (PV) systems in the United States has experienced tremendous growth over the past decade, with installed capacity more than doubling between 2014 and 2016 alone (SEIA, 2016). As the residential market continues to grow, it prompts new questions about the nature of competition between solar installers and how this competition, or lack thereof, affects the prices consumers are paying. It is often assumed that more competition leads to lower prices, but this is not universally true. For example, some studies have shown that factors such as brand loyalty could lead to a negative relationship between concentration and price in imperfectly competitive markets (Borenstein, 1985; Holmes, 1989). As such, the relationship between prices and market concentration is an open empirical question since theory could predict either a positive or negative relationship. Determining a relationship between prices and market concentration is challenging for several reasons. Most significantly, prices and market structure are simultaneously determined by each other -- the amount of competition a seller faces influences the price they can command, and prices determine a seller's market share. Previous studies have examined recent PV pricing trends over time and between markets (Davidson et al., 2015a; Davidsonmore » and Margolis 2015b; Nemet et al., 2016; Gillingham et al., 2014; Barbose and Darghouth 2015). While these studies of solar PV pricing are able to determine correlations between prices and market factors, they have not satisfactorily proven causation. Thus, to the best of our knowledge, there is little work to date that focuses on identifying the causal relationship between market structure and the prices paid by consumers. We use a unique dataset on third-party owned contract terms for the residential solar PV market in the San Diego Gas and Electricity service territory to better understand this relationship. Surprisingly, we find that firms charged higher prices in more competitive markets in our sample. The finding is robust across multiple definitions of firm concentration. There are at least two potential explanations for our findings. First, firms could be conducting entry deterrence strategies. It is possible that firms are acting in a non-competitive way and setting prices lower than they would be otherwise. Setting low prices that are below potential competitors' marginal costs could deter entrants and ensure a larger market share. Second, there could be a group of dominant firms (with a competitive fringe), and the dominant firms may occasionally engage in price wars. If this is true, prices should be lower in more concentrated markets during the price wars (Salinger, 1990). As the rooftop PV market continues to grow, market structure will remain a relevant policy issue in consideration of the potential for rooftop solar to contribute to de-carbonization efforts or other policy objectives. This paper adds to a growing emphasis on understanding supply-side factors in scaling up solar markets in the residential sector. Generally, solar markets have become more competitive over the same time period that solar technology costs decreased. While solar system hard costs have come down, our research suggests that total costs are more nuanced in early solar system TPO markets. Policymakers should consider these findings when designing markets, and have the data needed to make informed decisions.« less

Authors:
 [1];  [2];  [2];  [2];  [3]
  1. Univ. of Oxford (United Kingdom)
  2. Center for Sustainable Energy, San Francisco, CA (United States)
  3. National Renewable Energy Lab. (NREL), Golden, CO (United States)
Publication Date:
Research Org.:
National Renewable Energy Lab. (NREL), Golden, CO (United States)
Sponsoring Org.:
USDOE Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE), Solar Energy Technologies Office (EE-4S)
OSTI Identifier:
1342827
Report Number(s):
NREL/TP-6A20-66784
DOE Contract Number:
AC36-08GO28308
Resource Type:
Technical Report
Country of Publication:
United States
Language:
English
Subject:
14 SOLAR ENERGY; 29 ENERGY PLANNING, POLICY, AND ECONOMY; solar markets; third-party ownership; market structures

Citation Formats

Pless, Jacquelyn, Langheim, Ria, Machak, Christina, Hellow, Henar, and Sigrin, Ben. The Price-Concentration Relationship in Early Residential Solar Third-Party Markets. United States: N. p., 2017. Web. doi:10.2172/1342827.
Pless, Jacquelyn, Langheim, Ria, Machak, Christina, Hellow, Henar, & Sigrin, Ben. The Price-Concentration Relationship in Early Residential Solar Third-Party Markets. United States. doi:10.2172/1342827.
Pless, Jacquelyn, Langheim, Ria, Machak, Christina, Hellow, Henar, and Sigrin, Ben. Sun . "The Price-Concentration Relationship in Early Residential Solar Third-Party Markets". United States. doi:10.2172/1342827. https://www.osti.gov/servlets/purl/1342827.
@article{osti_1342827,
title = {The Price-Concentration Relationship in Early Residential Solar Third-Party Markets},
author = {Pless, Jacquelyn and Langheim, Ria and Machak, Christina and Hellow, Henar and Sigrin, Ben},
abstractNote = {The market for residential solar photovoltaic (PV) systems in the United States has experienced tremendous growth over the past decade, with installed capacity more than doubling between 2014 and 2016 alone (SEIA, 2016). As the residential market continues to grow, it prompts new questions about the nature of competition between solar installers and how this competition, or lack thereof, affects the prices consumers are paying. It is often assumed that more competition leads to lower prices, but this is not universally true. For example, some studies have shown that factors such as brand loyalty could lead to a negative relationship between concentration and price in imperfectly competitive markets (Borenstein, 1985; Holmes, 1989). As such, the relationship between prices and market concentration is an open empirical question since theory could predict either a positive or negative relationship. Determining a relationship between prices and market concentration is challenging for several reasons. Most significantly, prices and market structure are simultaneously determined by each other -- the amount of competition a seller faces influences the price they can command, and prices determine a seller's market share. Previous studies have examined recent PV pricing trends over time and between markets (Davidson et al., 2015a; Davidson and Margolis 2015b; Nemet et al., 2016; Gillingham et al., 2014; Barbose and Darghouth 2015). While these studies of solar PV pricing are able to determine correlations between prices and market factors, they have not satisfactorily proven causation. Thus, to the best of our knowledge, there is little work to date that focuses on identifying the causal relationship between market structure and the prices paid by consumers. We use a unique dataset on third-party owned contract terms for the residential solar PV market in the San Diego Gas and Electricity service territory to better understand this relationship. Surprisingly, we find that firms charged higher prices in more competitive markets in our sample. The finding is robust across multiple definitions of firm concentration. There are at least two potential explanations for our findings. First, firms could be conducting entry deterrence strategies. It is possible that firms are acting in a non-competitive way and setting prices lower than they would be otherwise. Setting low prices that are below potential competitors' marginal costs could deter entrants and ensure a larger market share. Second, there could be a group of dominant firms (with a competitive fringe), and the dominant firms may occasionally engage in price wars. If this is true, prices should be lower in more concentrated markets during the price wars (Salinger, 1990). As the rooftop PV market continues to grow, market structure will remain a relevant policy issue in consideration of the potential for rooftop solar to contribute to de-carbonization efforts or other policy objectives. This paper adds to a growing emphasis on understanding supply-side factors in scaling up solar markets in the residential sector. Generally, solar markets have become more competitive over the same time period that solar technology costs decreased. While solar system hard costs have come down, our research suggests that total costs are more nuanced in early solar system TPO markets. Policymakers should consider these findings when designing markets, and have the data needed to make informed decisions.},
doi = {10.2172/1342827},
journal = {},
number = ,
volume = ,
place = {United States},
year = {Sun Jan 01 00:00:00 EST 2017},
month = {Sun Jan 01 00:00:00 EST 2017}
}

Technical Report:

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  • Previous work quantifying the non-hardware balance-of-system costs -- or soft costs -- associated with building a residential or commercial photovoltaic (PV) system has left a significant portion unsegmented in an 'other soft costs' category. This report attempts to better quantify the 'other soft costs' by focusing on the financing, overhead, and profit of residential and commercial PV installations for a specific business model. This report presents results from a bottom-up data-collection and analysis of the upfront costs associated with developing, constructing, and arranging third-party-financed residential and commercial PV systems. It quantifies the indirect corporate costs required to install distributed PVmore » systems as well as the transactional costs associated with arranging third-party financing.« less
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