System Cost Data

When you run SAM, you provide information about the cost of installing and operating the system by specifying inputs on the System Costs page. SAM organizes the costs into three categories:

  • Direct capital costs for equipment purchases and installation labor
  • Indirect capital costs for permitting, engineering, and land-related costs
  • Operation and maintenance costs for labor, equipment, and other costs associated with operating the project

You can also specify costs associated with financing the project on the Financing page:

  • Construction loan
  • Project loan
  • Taxes and insurance
  • Fees associated with the project structure for projects involving two partners or a lease

When you create a new case or file, SAM populates inputs with default values to help you get started with your analysis. So, if you create a case for a utility-scale photovoltaic project with a single owner, SAM populates the inputs on the Financing and System Costs pages with values that are reasonable for a typical PV project for power generation in the United States. The default values are just a starting point: As you develop and refine your analysis, you should change the inputs to values that are appropriate for your analysis scenario.

For example, the default module cost for a PV project with the utility single owner financing option in SAM 2012.5.11 is $1.95/Wdc. That cost is based on NREL research on benchmark prices in the United States to help the U.S. Department of Energy's Solar Energy Program evaluate its programs (see references below). Obviously, the module price for a real project is likely to be different than the benchmark U.S. price, and it is up to you to determine appropriate costs for your analysis. For the other technologies (concentrating solar power, wind, biomass, geothermal, and solar water heating), the default costs are similarly representative values based on the U.S. market at the time of the SAM release.

The following websites and documents provide information about costs for the different technologies SAM can model. If you have suggestions for other resources for us to add to this list, please let us know.

Bold text in the list below indicates a reference that we used to determine default costs for SAM.

Note. The names of SAM files in the list below (.zsam) include the SAM version number that was used to create the file. If you use the current version of SAM to open the files and run simulations, you may get results that differ from the original results. If you want to replicate the results exactly, you can download the version of SAM that was used to create the files from the Downloads page.


NREL Annual Technology Database (ATB) (Website)

NREL OpenEI Transparent Cost Database (Website)

U.S. EIA Annual Energy Review. (2012). (Website)

EPA Clean Energy Renewable Energy Cost Database. (2008-2010). (Website)

Milligan, M.; Hodge, B.; Kirby, B.; Clark, C. (2012). Integration Costs: Are They Unique to Wind and Solar Energy? Preprint. 12 pp.; NREL Report No. CP-5500-54905. (PDF 724 KB)

Mendelsohn, M.; Lowder, T.; Canavan, B. (2012). Utility-Scale Concentrating Solar Power and Photovoltaic Projects: A Technology and Market Overview. 65 pp.; NREL Report No. TP-6A20-51137. (PDF 2.1 MB)

Mendelsohn, M.; Kreycik, C.; Bird, L.; Schwabe, P.; Cory, K. (2012). Impact of Financial Structure on the Cost of Solar Energy. 40 pp.; NREL Report No. TP-6A20-53086. (PDF 832 KB)

Photovoltaic (PV)

NREL Open PV Project (Website)

Solarbuzz Solar Market Research and Analysis (Website)

Feldman, D.; Margolis, R.; James, T.; Goodrich, A.; Barbose, G.; Dargouth, N.; Weaver, S.; Wiser, R. (2013). Photovoltaic System Pricing Trends: Historical, Recent, and Near-Term Projections 2013 Edition (Presentation). SunShot, U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). NREL Report No. PR-6A20-60207. (PDF 469 KB)

Barbose, G.; Darghouth, N.; Weaver, S.; Wiser, R. (2013). Tracking the Sun VI: An Historical Summary of the Installed Cost of Photovoltaics in the United States from 1998 to 2012. LBNL-6350E. (Website)

Goodrich, A.; James, T.; Woodhouse, M. (2012). Residential, Commercial, and Utility-Scale Photovoltaic (PV) System Prices in the United States: Current Drivers and Cost-Reduction Opportunities. 64 pp.; NREL Report No. TP-6A20-53347. (PDF 1.6 MB)

Salasovich, J.; Mosey, G. (2012). Feasibility Study of Economics and Performance of Solar Photovoltaics at Johnson County Landfill. 54 pp.; NREL Report No. TP-6A20-53186. (PDF 1.9 MB)

Monte Carlo Analysis on PV System Costs

The following workbook and SAM file show how to use SAM to investigate ranges of cost assumptions for a Monte Carlo analysis of photovoltaic system costs with the residential, commercial and utility IPP financial models:

Concentrating Solar Power (CSP)

Kurup, P.; Turchi, C.; (2015).  Parabolic Trough Collector Cost Update for the System Advisor Model (SAM). NREL/TP-6A20-65228. (PDF 2 MB)

Turchi C, Heath G. (2013). Molten Salt Power Tower Cost Model for the System Advisor Model. NREL/TP-5500-57625. National Renewable Energy Laboratory. (PDF 2.3 MB, SAM 2012.11.30 ZSAM 76 KB, EXCEL XLSX 114 KB)

Kolb G, Ho C, Mancini T, Gary J. (2011). Power Tower Technology Roadmap and Cost Reduction Plan. SAND2011-2419. Sandia National Laboratories. (PDF 503 KB)

Kutscher C, Mehos M, Turchi C, Glatzmaier G, Moss T. (December 2010). Line-Focus Solar Power Plant Cost Reduction Plan. NREL/TP-5500-48175. National Renewable Energy Laboratory. (PDF 1.32 MB)

Kelly B. (June 2010). Advanced Thermal Storage for Central Receivers with Supercritical Coolants. DOE Contract Report under Grant DE-FG36-08GO18149. (PDF 1.0 MB)

Turchi C. (2010). Parabolic Trough Reference Plant for Cost Modeling with the Solar Advisor Model (SAM). 112 pp.; NREL/TP-550-47605. National Renewable Energy Laboratory. (PDF 7.2 MB, EXCEL XLSX 109 KB, SAM 2010.4.12 ZSAM 320 KB)

Turchi C, Mehos M, Ho C, Kolb G. (2010). Current and Future Costs for Parabolic Trough and Power Tower Systems in the US Market: Preprint. 11 pp.; NREL/CP-5500-49303. National Renewable Energy Laboratory. (PDF 413 KB)

Black & Veatch. (2007). Arizona Renewable Energy Assessment Final Report.

Kolb G, Jones S, Donnelly M, Gorman D, Thomas R, Davenport R, Lumia R. (June 2007). Heliostat Cost Reduction Study. SAND2007-3293. Sandia National Laboratories. (PDF 2.48 MB)

Black & Veatch (2006), Economic, Energy, and Environmental Benefits of Concentrating Solar Power in California. (PDF 1.5 MB)

Sargent & Lundy Engineering (2003), Assessment of Parabolic Trough and Power Tower Solar Technology Cost and Performance Forecasts>. (PDF 2.4 MB)

Wind Power

Wiser, R.; Bolinger, M. (2014). 2013 Wind Technologies Market Report. U.S. Department of Energy. 82 pp.; DOE/GO-102014-4459. (PDF 2.5 MB) [utility-scale default total cost and O&M default costs]

Orrell, A.; Rhoads-Weaver M. (2014). 2013 Distributed Wind Market Report. 54 pp.; PNNL-23484. (PDF 3 MB) [residential and commercial default installed costs, commercial default O&M cost same as utility-scale]

Hahn, M.; Gilman, P. (2014). Offshore Wind Market and Economic Analysis: 2014 Annual Market Assessment. Prepared by Navigant Consulting, Inc. for the U.S. Department of Energy. DE-EE0005360. (PDF 3.7 MB) [used for offshore installation cost estimates]

Lantz, E. (2013). Operations Expenditures: Historical Trends and Continuing Challenges. NREL Conference Presentation. AWEA Wind Power Conference 2013, Chicago. (PDF 490 KB)

Tegen, S.; Lantz, E.; Hand, M.; Maples, B.; Smith, A.; Schwabe, P. (2013). 2011 Cost of Wind Energy Review. 50 pp.; NREL Reprt No. TP-5000-56266. (PDF 1.2 MB[utility scale default turbine cost and BOS cost fraction of total cost]

Lantz, E.; Wiser, R.; Hand, M. (2012). IEA Wind Task 26: The Past and Future Cost of Wind Energy, Work Package 2. 137 pp.; NREL Report No. TP-6A20-53510. (PDF 4.7 MB)

Martin-Tretton, M.; Reha, M.; Drunsic, M.; Keim, M. (2012). Data Collection for Current U.S. Wind Energy Projects: Component Costs, Financing, Operations, and Maintenance; January 2011 - September 2011. 34 pp.; NREL Report No. SR-5000-5270 (PDF 884 KB)

Tegen, S.; Hand, M.; Maples, B.; Lantz, E.; Schwabe, P.; Smith, A. (2012). 2010 Cost of Wind Energy Review. 111 pp.; NREL Report No. TP-5000-52920. (PDF 2.0 MB)

Schwabe, P.; Lensink, S.; Hand, M. (2011). IEA Wind Task 26 - Multi-national Case Study of the Financial Cost of Wind Energy; Work Package 1 Final Report. 122 pp.; NREL Report No. TP-6A20-48155. (PDF 2.2 MB)

Biomass Power

Default biomass power capital costs in SAM are from the following two documents:

EPA Combined Heat and Power Partnership. (2007). CHP Project Development Handbook. 85 pp.; (PDF 1.3 MB)

Bain, R. L.; Amos, W. P.; Downing, M.; Perlack, R. L. (2003). Biopower Technical Assessment: State of the Industry and the Technology. 277 pp.; NREL Report No. TP-510-33123. (PDF 4.4 MB)

Default biomass transportation costs are from:

Mahmudi, H.; Flynn, P. C. (2006). Rail vs truck transport of biomass. Applied Biochemistry and Biotechnology 129-132:88-103. ( Citation)

Default feedstock costs are from:

Biomass Research and Development Board. (2008). The economics of biomass feedstocks in the United States: A review of the literature. Biomass Research and Development Initiative. (PDF 495 KB)

Geothermal Power and Co-production

Cross, J.; Freeman, J. (2009) 2008 Geothermal Techologies Market Report. 46 pp.; DOE/GO 102009 2864 (PDF 1.3 MB)

Geothermal Electricity Technology Evaluation Model, Version 2009-A15. (GETEM 2009-A15). U.S. Department of Energy Geothermal Technologies Program. (GETEM Website)

Solar Water Heating

Cassard, H.; Denholm, P.; Ong, S. (2011). Break-Even Cost for Residential Solar Water Heating in the United States: Key Drivers and Sensitivities. 54 pp.; NREL Report No. TP-6A20-48986. (PDF 3.5 MB")

Historical (Out-of-date Costs)

NREL Energy Analysis Power Technologies Energy Data Book. (2006). (Website)

Renewable Energy Technology Characterizations. (1997). EPRI and DOE Topical Report TR-109496 (PDF 3.9 MB)

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