Given the geographical location of our model city, this study will assume that the array receives five equivalent noontime hours of sun exposure on an average day. This is a slightly conservative estimate; the state’s two largest metropolitan areas, Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay, re­ceive 5.6 and 5.4 noontime hours of sun on the average day, respectively, while other parts of the state receive as much as 7.7 average equivalent noontime hours per day [5]. For simplicity’s sake, this analysis also as­sumes an array generates no electricity outside of noontime hours.

Given that most photovoltaic cells are guaranteed to remain at 80% of starting efficiency after 25 years, as referenced by Black, this analysis will assume that the cells lose generating capacity at a compounded.9% per year. Thus, it will also limit its lifespan to the first 25 years and assume the array possesses no generating capacity afterwards.

Another assumption is the number of times the inverter has to be changed. Over time, the inverter coils wear down and eventually fail. Though there is not yet a consensus over the average life of a photovoltaic array’s inverter, estimates range from as little as 4.7 years [6] to longer than the lifespan of the array. For the sake of this analysis, we assume one inverter replacement half way through the lifespan of the array.

Finally this study will only take into account governmental policies that affect the whole state. Particularly, it will consider the 30% Resident Renewable Energy Tax Credit offered by the federal government, and the subsidies offered by the California Solar Initiative. However while several cities and counties offer additional incentives for photovoltaic array instal­lations, these will be ignored for the purposes of this paper [7]. Similarly, this paper will not assume tiered electricity pricing as it is only active in certain parts of California, but it will mention how this may affect our findings.

Research shows that the average efficiency of these cells lies between 13% and 16% [8]. This loss in energy results from thermodynamic ef­ficiency losses (up to 75%), losses in the inverter (10-15%), reflectance losses (~10%), temperature and dust accumulation (10%), and resistive electrical losses (1-3%) [9]. Hence, for the sake of conservatism this study will assume a 13% of cell efficiency. See Additional File 1 for further explanation on how energy is lost and further detail on how this technology works.

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