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Balance of Systems

Balance of Systems

RMI excels at breaking down the barriers that block the path toward a world free of fossil fuels. We identified the balance of system (BoS) costs—all of the related solar energy system costs besides the solar panels themselves—as a key threat to widespread solar adoption and got to work finding a solution. The result? Increased focus on bringing down the BoS cost from within the solar industry and at the federal government level—illustrated in the map of our solar success story below.


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RMI Identifies Critical Barrier
RMI Identifies Opportunity and Path Forward
RMI Completes Industry Analysis
RMI Identifies Key Industry Leaders, Drives Collaboration
RMI Leads Charrette
Participants Assess Challenges and Opportunities
RMI Aggregates Data and Generates Report
RMI Report Leads to Department of Energy Focus on BOS Cost Reduction
Department of Energy Invites RMI to Conduct Workshop
RMI Further Hones & Continues Work
RMI's Continued Success

01 — RMI Identifies Critical Barrier


In 2008, RMI researchers identify high Balance of System (BOS) costs as a serious threat to widespread solar energy adoption, even if panel costs continue to decline, as most experts expect.

02 — RMI Identifies Opportunity and Path Forward


Over the next three years, deep industry analysis and sustained philanthropic support allow RMI to test various hypotheses and engage with industry experts—supporting the position that solar electricity can become cost competitive and a larger part of the country’s energy mix.

03 — RMI Completes Industry Analysis


Our researchers hypothesize that the solar industry could drive down BoS costs to as little as 50 cents/watt, compared to $1.60 currently, if stakeholders collaborated to solve this problem. At this lower cost, the prospects for mass adoption of solar power would be much brighter.

04 — RMI Identifies Key Industry Leaders, Drives Collaboration


RMI’s case for a collaborative effort to reduce BoS costs attracts engagement from leading solar companies and thinkers. A diverse group of partners and stakeholders signs up to develop innovative, actionable solutions.

05 — RMI Leads Charrette


In June of 2010, RMI holds Solar PV (photovoltaic) Balance of System Charrette—an innovative workshop with 50 participants including RMI staff, industry experts, solar energy business leaders, the Department of Energy, and designers from other industries.

06 — Participants Assess Challenges and Opportunities


During the workshop, participants identify industry-wide opportunities and challenges. They also make specific recommendations about how to achieve BoS cost reduction goals through lower cost physical system designs, streamlined business processes, and long-term industry scaling.

07 — RMI Aggregates Data and Generates Report


RMI’s resulting report, "Achieving Low-Cost Solar PV: Industry Workshop Recommendations for Near-Term Balance of System Cost Reductions," summarizes the workshop themes and clarifies that by taking a whole-system approach the industry could achieve cost-competitive solar in the next three to five years with current technologies.

08 — RMI Report Leads to Department of Energy Focus on BOS Cost Reduction


The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) was one of three sponsors for RMI’s charrette. Several DOE representatives also attended, and according to Jennifer DeCesaro, DOE’s program director for solar market transformation, RMI’s work “really made the case for a rigorous approach to BoS cost reduction and allowed us to develop a program focused on the soft costs.”

09 — Department of Energy Invites RMI to Conduct Workshop


As a result of RMI’s research, charrette, and report, DOE asks RMI to run an advisory workshop for the DOE's “SunShot” program, recently announced by Secretary of Energy Steven Chu to reduce the cost of solar energy systems by 75% before 2020.

10 — RMI Further Hones & Continues Work


While this is a success story, our work isn’t done. RMI, with generous support, can remain on the cutting edge of thinking and driving industry change in the coming decade.

11 — RMI's Continued Success


RMI is awarded $683,692 under the DOE"s SunShot Initiative to drive Innovative Solar Business Models. In addition, RMI is a member of two teams that were also awarded SunShot contracts.


Philanthropic Support:

Donors Create Impact.
Gifts from our donors allow us to sustain cutting-edge research, perform extensive analyses, find new answers, develop practical tools, convene industry experts, and enhance our thought leadership. Then, equipped with knowledge, insights, and ideas funded by our donors, we’re ready to tackle the barriers to much-needed change.


Philanthropy supports RMI's vision of a brighter future. With Industry and governmental support Balance of Systems cost challenges can be met.

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